Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 Crystal Ball Gazing - Political Predictions, Part 3: The Federal Scene

The Conservative Party

2013 was unquestionably a bad year for the Conservative Party of Canada – although perhaps not the disaster some in the media are portraying it as being. 2013, however, really exploded the myths of the Stephen Harper’s infallibility and iron-grip control. The Senate Scandal in the PMO’s office has really hurt – as have the changing story-lines which the Prime Minister himself has altered throughout the year regarding Nigel Wright. For me, there were more important matters at play here (particularly the fact that sitting members of our legislature were able to force three other members out of their jobs – which I find particularly chilling), but for the general public, what seems to be sticking is that the Prime Minister has been lying about what he knew, based on his reactions to events, and that constantly influx story line.

Contrary to my predictions for the Conservative Party in 2013 (I stated that it would be “business as usual” for the Conservatives – it’s been anything but!), what we’ve seen is a public conversation emerging about whether Harper can stay on to lead his Party in 2015 – along with a discussion about whom the frontrunners for a snap leadership race might be. These discussions really weren’t on anybody’s radar at the end of 2012 – and in some ways, I believe they are being oversold today.

Steady-Handed Steve

Look, Conservative support remains fairly strong, although it has suffered a dip in public opinion polls – those same polls which are becoming less and less trustworthy each day. What the Conservatives can count on more than any other Party is that it can mobilize its vote on election day – and be competitive in all of the ridings that it needs to be competitive in (and can still spend a tonne of money in the ridings that it has only a moderate chance of success in – like Sudbury). Strong campaigns by the NDP and Liberals (and Greens in certain ridings – and the Bloc in others) could split the vote in such a way that Conservatives are still able to come up the middle in marginal ridings, particularly in B.C., Quebec and suburban Ontario.

But what about those by-elections in Manitoba, where the Conservatives lost a lot of ground to the Liberals? Aren’t they a sign of what awaits the Conservatives in 2015? No, I don’t believe that they are, given the dynamics of a general election versus a by-election. That being said, I don’t think that there’s any question that a resurgent Liberal Party poses a threat to the Conservatives in many western ridings – and we can expect a number of Conservative incumbents to go down in defeat to Liberal candidates in 2015. But as far as 2014 goes, I don’t think that there’s enough there to rock the boat considerably.

Conservatives will continue to look for Justin Trudeau to fall on his face (although I must admit that I was surprised that the Conservative attack machine generally offered Trudeau a “pass” throughout 2013 – particularly at times when the Conservatives were being hammered over the Senate Scandal, and a good “look over there” might have come in handy to change the channel for a day or so. What this tells me is that maybe the Conservatives don’t have the goods on Trudeau to the degree that many of us have been thinking they do). That’s not a winning strategy, I don’t think, but it’s likely enough to keep backbenchers quiet for another year. While some pundits are predicting a caucus revolt for the Conservatives in 2014, I just can’t see it happening. Such a revolt might mean victory for a few die-hard social conservatives in Alberta, but it would assuredly mean the destruction of the Conservative Party – and that’s not a place which most conservatives want to go.

Conservative “Successes”

I believe that Harper will keep a firm hand on the tiller throughout 2014 – and that the Conservatives will continue to obstruct Elections Canada from doing its job(s) on spending and voter suppression investigations. Delays will also help the Conservatives with regards to Nigel Wright and the Senate Scandal. Look for modest polling gains to be made with tough-on-crime anti-prostitution bills, coupled with a relatively healthy economic performance.

The Conservatives will also toot their own horn on the environment as President Obama finally gets around to making a decision about Keystone XL. Obama will approve the pipeline, with credit taken by the Conservatives. Keystone XL will be a media-hyped victory for the Conservatives, after losing one to Europe – as the EU will vote to add Canada’s tar sands to it’s “high carbon pollution” fuel quality standard (something we won’t hear a lot about in Canada).

Other scandals may re-emerge (particularly Robocalls), but generally speaking, the Conservatives will be able to dust themselves off at the end of 2014 and position themselves strongly for another run for a majority government in 2015 under the leadership of Stephen Harper.

The New Democratic Party of Canada

2013 was a tough year for the NDP – and not at all in keeping with my prediction that the NDP would emerge, at the end of 2013, in a position of strength relative to the Liberals. I sincerely thought that Thomas Mulcair was the “real deal” for the NDP (and in fact, I continue to think that he is – but it seems that most Canadians don’t agree with me on that). A the end of 2012, I predicted that the NDP’s fortunes were tied irrevocably to those of Justin Trudeau – on that I was correct – but I also predicted that Canada’s flirtation with the apparently vacuous Trudeau would be short lived – and it clearly has not been.

The NDP Flop of 2013

And so the NDP have ended 2013 as the third place party in opinion polls, having failed at gaining either of two coveted ridings in recent by-elections, despite aggressive campaigns. In Bourassa, the NDP actually lost ground to the Liberals (from 2011 results), while Toronto-Centre proved to be extremely problematic for the NDP, with Linda McQuaig, the NDP’s star candidate, going down in defeat to Chrystia Freeland, who ran a positive campaign. McQuaig’s continued personal attacks on Freeland no doubt disgusted traditional NDP supporters (as did McQuaig’s continued denial that she was engaging in the politics of character assassination – even though she was clearly doing just that), and this type of negative campaigning isn’t going to sit well with Canadians who are clearly growing tired of partisan antics.

Despite having an extremely effective year in the House, Thomas Mulcair has led the NDP to the brink of disaster at the end of 2013 – although it may not seem like it to most NDP supporters, at least not yet. Mulcair’s year-end interviews, however, tell me a different story on several fronts.

Negative Campaigning Turns Off NDP Base

First, back to that negative campaigning. It’s no secret that the NDP’s forensic analysis of their electoral disaster in B.C. in 2013 pointed to a lack of aggressive, negative campaigning on the part of former provincial leader Adrian Dix. Mulcair has now clearly stated that his Party will engage in negative campaigning in 2015 as a result – and it won’t all be directed at the Conservatives. In contrast, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has vowed to remain positive (which may prove difficult for the Liberal Party – but based on recent by-elections, Trudeau appears to be generally remaining true to his word – in all four contests, the Liberals ran what can only be described as “positive” campaigns). Mulcair believes that the negative stories of his opponents need to be told if the NDP is going to experience success. He may be right – but Mulcair also needs to keep in mind that he risks alienating his base if throws too much sand out of the sandbox.

Now, dyed-in –wool NDP supporters might argue that the NDP base, like the Conservative Party’s, really has nowhere else to go in terms of shifting votes to. First, I’d argue that’s probably not the case, as the Liberals and (especially) the Greens would be attractive parties for alienated New Democrats to park their votes with in 2015 – as a protest of Mulcair’s right-ward shift and partisan antics. Even more likely, however, is that NDP supporters simply stay at home and voice their disgust with their party in the same way that 90-year old Joy Taylor did, when she witnessed the questionable antics of her Party during the candidate selection process for a recent Ontario by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood.

NDP Ultra-Partisanship Taking a Toll on Supporters

The heavy hands of Thomas Mulcair are turning long-time supporters away from his Party. Although the NDP claims to be in favour of improving democracy, their vote-whipping and stated aim of not co-operating with any other political parties to oust Harper are starting to take a real toll with an increasingly cynical membership, which had long understood their party to be above these sorts of cynical partisan games.

The extent of the NDP’s ultra-partisanship was on display recently when Independent MP Bruce Hyer opted to join the Green Party. The NDP was forced to relive Hyer’s story again, which put the NDP in a bad light nationally. Moronic, anti-democratic calls for a by-election in Hyer’s Thunder Bay-Superior North riding exposed not only the NDP’s hypocrisy (no such calls were made when Hyer left the NDP to sit as an independent) but their lack of understanding of even the most basic principles of Canada’s system of governance.

NDP Achilles Heel No. 1: The Sherbrooke Declaration

All of this brings us to what will be the NDP’s Achilles heels in 2014: their unabashed support for the Clarity Act-contravening and Supreme Court of Canada “Sherbrooke Declaration” and it’s 50% + 1 formula for breaking up the country; and their recent policy reversal on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about these NDP initiatives in the 2014 – and they will both prove to be losers for the NDP.

First, the Sherbrooke Declaration. On the surface, a 50% plus one simple majority might appear to be a democratic outcome in a referendum. However, the fact is that it’s just not that simple. First of all, a simple majority for a sovereignty referendum is clearly in violation of Canada’s laws and the Supreme Court of Canada’s recommendations that include a reference to a “clear majority” – obviously something different from a “simple” majority. Beyond the legalities, however, outside of wooing the separatist vote in Quebec, Sherbrooke will prove a real loser for the NDP, as the rest of Canada will start to take affront to the NDP’s soft position on sovereignty the more it becomes aware of its existence. Given that the Liberal Party was the one which adopted the Clarity Act in the first place, you can bet that they’ll be talking up the NDP’s soft-handed stance on breaking up the country. Increasingly, Canadians will come to view the NDP as not ready to govern.

NDP Achilles Heel No. 2: Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Policy Reversal

Regarding the Trans Mountain pipeline: right before the Christmas holidays, Tom Mulcair sat down with reporters and advised that the NDP was changing its position of opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline to one of non-opposition. Interestingly, the NDP’s B.C. election failure forensic analysis seemed to point to the NDP’s mid-election opposition to Trans Mountain as being one of several reasons why the NDP grabbed defeat from the hands of victory in 2013.

A more comprehensive analysis suggests otherwise – that the NDP’s mid-election policy change was actually popular – certainly opinion polls showed a modest bump of support for the NDP for days after the announcement was made. I’d go so far as to argue that the NDP’s opposition to Trans Mountain probably led to the defeat of a couple of Greens in B.C., after the NDP stole a little Green thunder. But apparently, that’s not Tom Mulcair’s read.

Mulcair was making some pretty good noises in late 2013 about supporting the emerging green energy economy (although in the same speech, given to the Economic Club of Canada, he may have also watered down the NDP’s long-standing emissions reductions target goals). Mulcair signaled his Party’s continued support of a Cap and Trade carbon emissions trading scheme, and made other observations that he was going to start getting tough on climate change. The NDP has long been opposed to both the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline, and have been lukewarm to the Line 9 reversal. In his speech to the Economic Club of Canada, Mulcair made it clear that he would only support a “West-East” pipeline if value-added refining jobs were a part of the equation. In short, Mulcair appeared to oppose the increase in transport capacity for raw bitumen.

NDP Abandons Environment as Vote-Getter

Which is what makes the NDP’s reversal in position on Trans Mountain a real head-scratcher. Trans Mountain is one and a half times as big as Northern Gateway – it will allow raw bitumen to flow to the Port of Vancouver for increased international export. Rather than 4 tankers a month in the Port, the Trans Mountain expansion is anticipated to lead to as many as 34 per month. Locally, Vancouver’s municipal council has signalled its opposition to Trans Mountain – and opinion polls show Vancoverites as being more inclined to oppose it than support it.

Given the tightness of public opinion polling in B.C., where the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP are within mere points of one another, and the Green Party has its strongest opinion poll showing of any jurisdiction in the world (with above 18%), Mulcair’s pre-Christmas policy reversal doesn’t appear to make much sense, as both his Conservative and Liberal opponents support Kinder Morgan. It may be that Mulcair is trying to show Canadians that he doesn’t oppose all pipelines in an attempt to combat Liberal and Conservative criticism that the NDP is anti-economic development. That might play well in other parts of Canada, including suburban Toronto, which is where the NDP must make gains in 2015.

The NDP’s Gift To Greens

But it hands the anti-Trans Mountain support over to the Green Party, which is now the last federal party standing which opposes the pipeline for numerous reasons, including tankers, dilbit spills and climate change impacts. And the Green Party is going to make hay with this – especially in ridings in Vancouver and on the Island which may be directly impacted by increased tanker traffic and attendant spills – and which are exactly the ridings which the Greens have been building a regional power base in.

Not only does it hand the Greens a local issue on which to oppose the NDP in B.C., but Mulcair’s reversal of the NDP’s position completely calls into question his Party’s stance on climate change. Now, I suspect that Mulcair is gambling that those nuances might be lost on voters who are concerned about this issue (particularly if Mulcair continues to tout Cap & Trade as a means of reducing carbon pollution), but those nuances aren’t going to be lost on environmental public opinion shapers. Within days of Mulcair’s reversal, there have been several critical documents published which do just that – claiming that the reversal clearly shows that the NDP doesn’t understand the depth of the climate crisis. These public opinion shapers will eventually have an impact on voters throughout the nation.

NDP Hypocrisy Exposed

Further, the reversal on Trans Mountain is internally inconsistent with the NDP’s so-called New Energy Vision – in which Mulcair laid out that the price of any pipeline exporting Canada’s oil resources would be jobs. Trans Mountain will export raw bitumen – and create no value-added jobs. This is exactly the sort of proposal which the NDP ought to be opposing if value-added is a real concern for that Party. That was one of the reasons that Dix and the NDP offered when opposition was announced in the first place.

I believe that the backlash to the NDP’s support of Trans Mountain will lead the NDP to reconsider this stance prior to the end of 2014. A lot of this backlash is going to come from the NDP’s own members and supporters in B.C., along with public opinion shapers who have long opposed Trans Mountain. The only question that I have is how much damage will the NDP do to itself before this position is again reversed?

On the Shrebrooke Declaration, the NDP has too much time and energy invested in propping up this policy loser – there will be no alteration of course on it. Both Shrebrooke and Trans Mountain are going to be big-time problems for the NDP in 2014.

The Liberal Party of Canada

What’s bad, of course, for the NDP is good for the Liberals. With the NDP’s dismal performance in 2013, the Liberals are at the tops of public opinion polls. Those of us who believed that Justin Trudeau would fall flat on his face in 2013 were proven wrong. If anything, Trudeau has had one of the strongest performances of any Leader in 2013, and hasn’t let a few bozo eruptions alter his course. Strong showings in 5 by-elections (with 3 wins – including the defeat of an incumbent in Labrador) have left the Liberals sitting pretty at the end of 2013.

Liberal Strength – or NDP Weakness?

2014, I believe, will prove to be an even stronger year for the Liberals, even as the Conservatives start to bounce back from 2013 lows. The good news for the Liberals is going to be Tom Mulcair and the NDP’s continued descent towards the high teens of public opinion.

Polling inroads will be made by the Liberals in the Atlantic provinces, B.C., Manitoba and (modestly) in Quebec. The Liberals will continue to face off against the Conservatives in Ontario – but with the exception of a handful of downtown Toronto ridings, urban and suburban Ontario is going to continue to make a pronounced shift in preference towards the Liberals. And these are exactly the ridings the Liberals need to win if they are going to reclaim the title of Official Opposition in 2015.

Again, for me, this isn’t so much of a question of how well the Liberals might be doing in 2014, but rather a question of how poorly the NDP might fare. I’ve obviously been surprised that the NDP has seemingly decided to sink its own ship – even as it tries to tack towards a populist course. It seems that Mulcair is helming the gang that can’t shoot straight – and the Liberals have, until this time, been the primary beneficiaries of NDP folly. With an increasing number of high-profile candidates ready to go to bat for Liberals across Canada, the fortunes of the Liberal Party will consolidate throughout the year – although potential breakthroughs in Alberta and parts of Quebec will continue to appear elusive at the end of the year.

The Green Party of Canada

Unquestionably, the Green Party had a good year in 2013 – but primarily for one reason only: that it doubled its caucus with the addition of former-NDP and Independent MP Bruce Hyer. Other than this one event (which I broadly predicted in 2012 by stating that there would be a new Green MP in place by the end of 2013), the fortunes of the Green Party appear to be somewhat mixed. The reality, however, is that the Green Party has really started to position itself for success in 2013 – and although I am a Green partisan – I also feel that I’m a realist when I write the Greens should not be under-estimated in 2014.

As I indicated above, the Green Party has been hard at work at building a regional power base in B.C., and our polling in that Province has never been higher (even with an interim Party Leader which the majority of British Columbians couldn’t pick out of a police line-up). With the election of Green MLA Andrew Weaver to B.C.’s provincial legislature in 2013, Greens continue to show that we can be competitive in a First Past the Post electoral environment. Look for the Greens to continue to build in B.C., especially when a (relatively) high-profile leadership contest gets underway (no date has been set yet, but one can imagine that the Greens will want to capitalize on momentum by holding a vote for Leader in the spring of 2015 – just months in advance of the fall federal election). Look for a well-known west coast environmentalist to throw their hat in the ring a la Elizabeth May to become Party Leader.

B.C. Momentum

The momentum for the Green Party coming out of B.C. might start to rub-off on other constituencies as well. If a provincial election is held in Ontario (and I have predicted one won’t be) and Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner is elected in Guelph (which I predicted he would be were an election held), it is conceivable that other Southwestern Ontario ridings could be in play for Greens come 2015. Historically, Greens have had decent showings in Buce-Grey-Owen Sound and Dufferin County.

Bruce Hyer

Bruce Hyer’s profile is going to loom larger in the public realm throughout 2014. Hyer and the Greens know that holding on to the Thunder Bay-Superior North riding is going to be tricky come 2015, but Hyer’s reputation as a strong constituency representative will only be enhanced by his higher profile in the Green Party. Already, Hyer is off on an international trade mission to Taiwan as the Green Party’s representative.

Will May and Hyer be joined by any other Greens in the House in 2014? It’s within the realm of possibility that a by-election might come along in 2014 in a location where a strong Green campaign can develop. As for additions to the Party from current Members – I’m doubtful. I think that the Greens are going to have to wait to 2015 to see an increase to caucus. But the signs are pointing in the right direction, in my opinion, particularly if the NDP sticks to its guns on its Trans Mountain reversal – a policy decision which will really upset a lot of NDP supporters in Vancouver and on the Island.

(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)

2014 Crystal Ball Gazing - Political Predictions, Part 2: Provincial Politics


There are two big political questions about the Province of Ontario – the first is, will there be a provincial election in 2014? The second is, if so, what will the results be? Trying to answer either of these questions is a fool’s game, but this fool is game to try. So here goes nothing.

There will be no provincial election in Ontario in 2013. Despite my prediction from last year (where I indicated that there would be a provincial election in 2012), I don’t think that the stars are going to align for an election in 2013 – which I know goes against conventional wisdom, along with my own gut feelings which I experienced throughout a majority of 2013. My view is that the Liberals are in seriously trouble, thanks to the gas plant and ORNGE scandals primarily – but also in part to the lack of aggressiveness on the part of the Wynne government to tackle much of anything in terms of issues throughout 2013. Finance Minister Charles Sousa has been a real disappointment to me in 2013.

Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives

Despite Ontario’s general malaise with the Liberals, polls suggest that they would still be returned to a minority government if an election were held today. That really says a lot more about their chief opponents than it does Kathleen Wynne’s government. The Progressive Conservatives appear to be mired in the politics of confrontation – and completely lacking in direction, other than expressing their desire to steer Ontario towards serious confrontations with both public and private sector unions. I can’t believe that PC Leader Tim Hudak thinks that this is a winning strategy for his Party – but nevertheless, Hudak’s hard-right turn appears to be on offer from the PC’s. Many in Hudak’s own party are growing increasingly worried that this isn’t going to be a winning strategy for the PC’s – and I agree with them.

Rural Ontario

That being said, Hudak is sure to pick up a good number of seats in Ontario – especially in rural areas, where his party is dominant. For Southern Ontario rural voters, the perception has been that they’ve been abandoned by both the NDP and the Liberals – and I think that there’s a lot of merit to that perception. Only the Green Party really offers an alternative direction for rural voters in Southern Ontario right now – and let’s face it, the Greens just aren’t as organized as they could be to take advantage of this situation. Nevertheless, the Greens One School Board policy is sure to resonate with rural voters – if the Greens play it up.

Northern Ontario

In Northern Ontario, the Liberals are done like dinner – thanks to the perception of an indifferent and at times actively hostile Queens Park (thanks in part to the Liberal’s decision to sell off Ontario Northland). Look to the NDP to capture those last remaining Liberal-held Northern ridings, including my own Sudbury riding – if an election is held.

NDP – Won’t Pull the Plug

But I don’t think we’ll have a provincial election, because the NDP’s polling elsewhere in the province leaves a lot to be desired. Although the NDP’s Leader, Andrea Horwath, is personally quite popular, her party remains mired in the low 20s in opinion polls. With little chance for growth in rural Southern Ontario, the NDP’s best bets are to take on the Liberals in certain key urban areas – and winning any of them are going to be difficult for the NDP – especially if Ontarians are forced to pick between a Wynne and Hudak government. It’s that vote-collapsing nightmare scenario for the NDP which will likely stay Horwath’s hand throughout 2014.

But If There Is an Election…

So, my answer to question No. 1 is No. But let’s ignore that for a moment and explore question No. 2 – if there were an election, who might win? First, I’ll answer a related question: I believe that the PC’s would gain the largest share of the popular vote – this because they can count on rural support to a greater degree than any other party. However, in our archaic First-Past-the-Post electoral system, getting the most votes doesn’t mean that you get to govern.

The Liberals: Taxes and Transit

2014 is going to be a critical year for Kathleen Wynne. She’s either going to start making a decent impression with voters (after wasting 2013) on issues like pension reform –or she and the Liberals are going to fall flat on their faces (which might not necessarily translate into a significant loss of support, given the popularity – or lack thereof – of the other two parties). I think that it’s going to be the latter, because Wynne seems intent on trying to climb the hill to electoral success by championing a tax increase.

Late in 2013, a report came out which suggested that transit improvements in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) could be funded by an increase to gas taxes between five and ten cents per litre, and potentially an increase to the HST. The report indicated that for the sake of equity, these tax increases should be applied to all of Ontario, and not just to the GTHA. Buried in the report was the notion that municipalities outside of the GTHA would receive their “fair share” (based on population – not necessarily on the amount of tax collected) for their own local transit needs. The Liberals, acknowledging that not all areas outside of the GTHA supported public transit, were quick to point out that local areas could use the additional tax revenue to fund other infrastructure projects. All in all, the roll-out of the Liberal’s key messaging has been a disaster – the PC’s have done an effective job of scaring Ontarians in rural and Northern areas into believing that a ten cent per litre hike to gas taxes is going to go towards funding transit in Toronto.

Even without the cynical PC scare-tactics, a hike to gasoline taxes (and the HST!) would be a tough sell. Wynne believes that Ontarians are ready to have an adult conversation about how transit can be paid for (at least, she believes that Ontarians in ridings which might vote Liberal are ready for that conversation). While it’s an admirable sentiment, I’m not certain that I agree with her.

The NDP – Populism Run Rampant

The NDP has drawn a line in the sand when it comes to gas taxes. For a long while now, the NDP’s position has been that it won’t raise taxes on gasoline – it believes that such a tax is “regressive” and hurts low income earners. The NDP has got it all backwards, that’s for sure – gas taxes aren’t regressive in the same way that taxes on food and shelter are. Low-income earners tend to spend far less of their monthly expenditures on gasoline, given that many don’t own personal vehicles. But the NDP likes to insist that as a percentage of income, higher gas prices effect the poor more substantially than they do the rich. While this might be so for middle-income wage earners, it’s not universal. The biggest factor at play is the availability of public transit – but the NDP likes to stick to its anti-gas tax guns.

Interestingly, the NDP has in the past suggested putting a cap on gasoline prices – in a cynical move to woo motoring voters. I say “cynical” because a gas price cap as proposed by the NDP will simply allow motorists to continue doing what they’ve been doing – burn fossil fuels – while passing along expenses to the next generation in the form of climate debt. Further, the biggest winners in the gas-cap sweepstakes will be the rich – as the impetus to drive less is removed due to the price cap.

Nevertheless, it’s easier to tell voters that there won’t be any new taxes on gas, and promise them to cap prices. Nevermind that the NDP’s economic plan to fund transit by raising corporate taxes is incredibly lacking – it will go over well with voters when contrasted to that of Wynne’s plan to hike taxes. For the NDP, Wynne’s choice to live and die on the Gas Tax hill will prove to be a winfall in those urban ridings where the NDP needs to make inroads. As a result, we could look to a slow rise in the NDP’s popularity throughout 2014 – I just don’t think it would be enough to for Horwath to roll the dice and pull the plug on Wynne. The longer Horwath waits, the better the NDP’s odds might be of winning an election – especially if the global economy tanks (which I don’t believe it will in 2014).

Hudak Slighted

So, if an election was to happen, what might the outcome be? I predict that Tim Hudak’s PC’s might win the most seats – but that they will not form a minority government. Hudak’s ultra-right-wing promises will scare the NDP and the Liberals into forming a united front against the PC’s – probably not in the form of a coalition government – but more likely in the form of the Accord between Bob Rae and David Peterson back in the ‘80s, which allowed the Liberals to govern with the NDP’s support on confidence matters – even though the PC’s had the largest number of seats.

Only this time, the roles of the two parties will be reversed and Ontario will be led by an NDP government with Andrea Horwath as Premier supported by the leaderless Liberals (Wynne will resign on election night) and the Greens (Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner will take the Guelph riding to become Canada’s second Green to be elected to a provincial legislature).


I really dislike making predictions about Quebec, but it’s going to be super-hard to ignore what’s going on in Quebec throughout 2014. I believe that there will be a provincial election, fought largely on Pauline Marois’ Charter of Quebec Values. Marois and the PQ’s will be returned Quebec’s National Assembly with a larger mandate (but still a minority). The Liberals will be the biggest winners, picking up seats formerly held by the Coalition Avenir de Quebec (CAQ) which appears to be in free-fall and unable to stake out any unique territory for itself.

Look for modest, if minor gains by Quebec’s fourth party, Quebec Solidaire, as the left-wing progressive urban vote rallies around this party which currently has 2 seats in the National Assembly. Quebec Solidaire may not gain any new seats, but I do expect it to double its vote total this time out. The relative success (or failure) of this small, fourth-place party is important nationally, as the federal NDP have decided that they will open up a provincial wing of the Party in Quebec after the next provincial election. Quebec Solidaire evolved out of the former provincial wing of the NDP after it was disowned by the federal party for its support of sovereignty.

What may not be realized by many voters is that the NDP has a strict policy in place that you can’t just be a member of the federal or provincial party – you must be a member of both. With this in mind, it’s always very interesting to see the dynamics in play between provincial and federal NDP parties, especially where Party Leaders might have slightly different takes on certain issues. Quebec is the only province which does not currently have a provincial NDP wing. Given the NDP’s massive success in Quebec federally in 2011, it stands to reason why the NDP has been thinking about re-entering the provincial scene in Quebec – but Quebec Solidaire’s success has appeared to stand in its way – and may continue to do so in 2014. Cautious left-wingers must be very concerned about a new provincial NDP splitting the vote, and leading to the election of other parties. Ultimately, I think that the federal NDP will decide it’s not worth the resources to plunge into Quebec’s provincial politics, even should Quebec Solidaire stumble (and I don’t think it will).

New Brunswick

New Brunswickers will head to the polls on September 22nd, as per that province’s fixed election laws. Look for Premier David Alward’s government to go down to defeat at the hands of the New Brunswick Liberals. Despite anti-fracking protests which have rocked parts of rural New Brunswick throughout 2013, the fracking issue will have little impact on the election’s outcome.

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

Monday, December 30, 2013

2014 Crystal Ball Gazing - Political Predictions, Part 1: Municipal Predictions

In the years that I’ve been blogging, I have tried to make end-of-the-year predictions regarding what I think we here in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada can expect in the new year. Mostly, I do this because it’s fun – but it’s also become a bit of an ego-kill for me when I review my previous year’s predictions against the reality of the year in question. 2013 was no exception.

On the one hand, I might be able to forgive myself for missing some of the biggest stories of the year. I was certainly in good company for not predicting the Senate scandal and the attendant drop in the popularity of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party. I was in excellent company in not predicting a majority government mandate for Christy Clark’s Liberals from the voters in British Columbia. And regarding Rob Ford? Well, I think we’re all still in a state of disbelief about that.

Although my track record left a lot to be desired, I’m nevertheless going to continue with my yearly predictions – although I will try to tone it down to fewer than six parts this year.

City of Greater Sudbury

With municipal elections scheduled for all of Ontario in October of 2014, let me first turn my attention to what I see shaping up here in Greater Sudbury, where it’s sure to be a really interesting municipal election, thanks to some very questionable decisions made by our municipal council over the past few years.

Voter Turn-Out & Store Hours Referendum

First, Greater Sudbury will buck the municipal trend of declining voter turn-out. I’m positive that a greater number of Sudburians will cast their ballots in 2014 than those that did in 2010, due to two factors: motivation to either save or dismiss current incumbents; and the store hours referendum which will appear on the ballot.

About that referendum. Greater Sudbury, I’m told, is the only city in all of Ontario which still requires businesses of a certain size to be closed on statutory holidays such as Boxing Day and Labour Day. Further, store operating hours are regulated by the City, and special permission is needed for stores to be open late or open early. Although the Mayor of Greater Sudbury, Marianne Matichuk, ran in 2010 on a platform to overturn the by-law, Council booted a decision on the by-law to a referendum question. I predict that Sudburians will vote by a two-thirds majority to overturn the by-law in 2014 – and in such numbers as to make the referendum legally binding (50% of voters are needed to do so).

Ward Races

While the focus of municipal elections is often on who occupies the Mayor’s chair, this election in Greater Sudbury is going to be different. That’s not to suggest that the race for Mayor will be a foregone conclusion (it will be anything but), but it is to suggest that ward council races are going to be just as heated – if not more – in 2014. Speculation throughout the City has been on which of the 12 ward councillors will vacate their seats – either to retire from municipal politics, or to take a run for the Mayor’s chair. I predict that most of our current municipal councillors will leave their wards open for a challenge in 2014. I predict (based on no knowledge – only on hunches) that only Councillors Belli (Ward 8), Landry-Altman (Ward 12), Barbeau (Ward 2), Rivet (Ward 6) and Berthiaume (Ward 3) will make a play for their wards in the next election – which leaves 7 wards vacant for new candidates.

I further predict that only Councillors Belli and Rivet will be returned – although if Councillors Kilgour (Ward 7), Dupuis (Ward 5) and Dutrisac (Ward 4) decide to run again, I predict that they will be returned. But I think that Kilgour and Dutrisac have likely had enough of municipal politics at this time, and will be stepping down, along with Councillors Caldarelli (Ward 10) and Craig (Ward 9). Councillor Cimino (Ward 1) will opt to focus his energies on provincial politics, whether a provincial election is held in 2014 or not. And Councillors Dupuis (Ward 5) and Kett (Ward 11) may take a run for the Mayor’s position.

The Campaign for Mayor

Look for a strong race for the Mayor’s chair in 2014. Our current Mayor ran a masterful come-from-behind campaign in 2010 to seize the position, seemingly out of nowhere. This time, Matichuk is the incumbent, and carries some of the baggage from the past four years. With the public perception being that the current Council has been a flop, Matichuk will have to try to make the case that the blame for a lack of success needs to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the other 12 members of Council, and not hers.

At the end of 2013, only one other known candidate for Mayor has stepped forward – in fact, former Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez had let it be known in the closing days of 2012 that he would be mounting a campaign to return to the Mayor’s chair in 2015.

We can probably expect one or two other high-profile campaigns – possibly from Councillors Dupuis and/or Kett. I think that Dupuis might be better positioned to mount a successful campaign, as he has weathered the anti-Council storm better than Kett, and his ward (comprised of both inner- and outer-City components) puts him in a better position to make a play for all voters, rather than a particular constituency.

That being said, money really is the biggest factor which will help determine who eventually throws their hat in the ring for Mayor. If Kett or Dupuis (or even Rodriguez for that matter) feel that they can’t raise $100,000, there might not be any point for them to step forward to challenge for that position. Despite the baggage now carried by Matichuk, I believe that most voters will be sympathetic and opt to give her another mandate.

Will another high-profile candidate step forward? It’s possible, I suppose. Prominent citizen Gerry Lougheed’s name keeps coming up – as does former PC candidate Gerry Labelle’s. Either could conceivably raise the $100,000 plus needed to make a run for the Council Chair, but I think that both will opt to sit this one out – the situation is just too volatile – unless Councillors Dupuis and Kett make clear indications that they will not run for Mayor in 2014. At this time, both have been very coy about their future plans.

Money and Winning

There will also be a number of others making the run for the Mayor’s Chair. Although many will offer bold and compelling visions for the City, as with all elections, messaging won’t count – and money does. I know that sounds very cynical (heck, it IS very cynical), but that does appear to be our electoral reality. To those who think that this might be a good election to at least get out there and have themselves and their issues get noticed by running for Mayor, I strongly believe that the opposite will be true. Ink will not be spilt on any campaign which raises less than $50,000 – and that means that your messages, ideas, and you yourself will be lost in the media – written off as “also rans” even before the race really gets underway.

Instead of pursuing the Mayor’s chair, why not make a bid at becoming a municipal councillor, where spending limits are considerably lower (about $15,000) and playing fields therefore more levelled. Of course, exposure for candidates running for Council is usually a lot lower than normal – nevertheless, this election might offer some creative opportunities, given the heat which is sure to be on in ward races. Social media, grassroots media, and even earned media from the mainstream media outlets are certainly routes for candidates to exploit.

Party Politics at the Municipal Level

Those ward races might be dominated by so-called “independents”, but the reality will be anything but. It’s been no secret that both the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association (which is really just the Conservative Party at the municipal level) and the NDP have both been active in recruiting candidates whom will run well-financed campaigns for ward councils. I predict that many of them will be successful, but a couple of truly independent-minded councillors might also be elected. Wards 9 and 11 and 12 (and maybe 1) will be the wards to really watch this time around (as Wards 8 and 11 were in 2010).

Who Will Occupy the Mayor’s Chair?

I predict that Marianne Matichuk will be returned as Mayor in 2014 – and she will be joined by a majority of new councillors – many of whom will be firmly affixed to either the right or the left side of the political spectrum. While the balance between left and right will almost assuredly be different in 2014 than it is today, I predict that Council will, if anything, become more polarized along political lines than ever before. This polarization (and the rise of political party involvement at the municipal level) is a direct result of extending the municipal mandate to four years. Party politics is already playing havoc with municipal councils in larger cities (such as Toronto, London and Ottawa) – smaller centres like Greater Sudbury have started to feel the impacts, but they’ve largely been tempered by more independent-minded incumbents. As those incumbents retire or are removed, partisans are sure to take their place in increasing numbers. We’ll see that happen here in Greater Sudbury.


I won’t spend much time on this – suffice it to say that the only question about Toronto which is on the top of mind for Ontarians (and all Canadians, for that matter) is whether Rob Ford will be returned as Mayor. With several other credible campaigns expected (not least of which from the NDP’s Olivia Chow), it seems unlikely that Ford can hold on to his Chair (or what’s left it now that Council has stripped him of so many of his duties). John Tory continues to dither about whether he’ll run. Karen Stintz and David Socknacki, both sitting Councillors who occupy the right-side of the political spectrum, have already announced their intention to run – and maybe that’s why Tory continues to dither.

Expect a few more high-profile individuals to contemplate a run. They will be centrists or right-wingers, however, as Chow’s entrance in the race will almost certainly keep all other left-wingers at bay. I predict that with Chow’s ability to consolidate the left-wing vote throughout the City, she will become Toronto’s next Mayor in 2014.

Other Municipalities

Some other key municipal races to watch include the City of Mississauga (where forever-Mayor Hazel McCallion will, at the age of 92, finally surrender the Mayor’s chair in 2014 – she’s already vowed not to run again); the scandal-plagued City of London (where Mayor Joe Fontana and his partisan gang on Council have brought national disrepute to London through their continual flaunting of the Municipal Act, along with the Mayor’s fraud charges); the City of Ottawa (which always offers has lively political offerings on tap) and my hometown: the City of Brampton (where Mayor Susan Fennell really should opt not to run again after spending and charity-related scandals – but she probably will run – and go down in defeat).

(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)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Economic Case Against the Tar Sands, Part 2: Tom Mulcair's Disastrous Kinder Morgan Reversal Opens the Door for the Green Party

In Part 1 of this blogseries, I laid out a logic model which started with the most important number to Canada’s, and the world’s, economic health: 2 degrees Celsius. Following from the notion that we must hold global annual warming at no more than 2 degrees Celsius, I laid out the case that Canada is failing to do its part to prevent warming, due to our weak Copenhagen Accord emissions reduction targets – and due to our failure to meet those targets under current economic circumstances, thanks to the tar sands industrial enterprise. I concluded that emissions from the tar sands enterprise cannot be permitted to rise and therefore investing in new pipelines would be a misallocation of scarce financial resources. The only way to hold the line at 2 degrees C of warming will be through heavy investment in renewables and the construction of distributed energy systems which transport and store renewable energy, coupled with the gradual winding down of fossil fuel enterprises, including Canada’s tar sands.

With all of this in mind, the question needs to be asked, what is Canada doing to achieve these necessary outcomes?

Canada: Headed in the Wrong Direction

Of course, the answer is we aren’t doing anything much at all – in fact, when everything is factored in, Canada is actually significantly exacerbating the global climate situation by facilitating the expansion of the tar sands industrial enterprise by approving additional pipeline capacity, and to a lesser but still significant degree, by investing in natural gas extraction.

I’ll leave the natural gas matter for another day. Today, I’d like to focus on those pipelines. In Part 1 of my series, the logic model I drew concluded that if pipelines are ultimately built, the tar sands can expect to see significant expansion. Canada’s Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver has been saying as much now for years, in his efforts to justify Keystone XL to President Obama (and despite what the U.S. Department of Foreign Affairs concluded – which was to say that the tar sands would expand with or without Keystone – which completely ignores what Oliver has been saying). I have always questioned Oliver’s wisdom, along with that of his Conservative Party counterparts – for it’s very clear to me that Canada risks economic upheaval, and potentially ruin, if we continue to invest in fossil fuels.

Northern Gateway Assessment - Absurd Economics

Last week, the National Energy Board (NEB) gave the greenlight to move forward with Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, subject to 209 conditions. In making this recommendation to cabinet, the NEB did not assess a couple of significant environmental matters, including what would happen to the bitumen once it left the pipeline in Kitimat, and importantly for my post today, what happens to the bitumen before it enters the pipeline. These impacts were simply not assessed by the NEB from an environmental standpoint – but interestingly the planned economic benefits from shipping and tar sands industrial expansion were key to the NEB’s findings that construction of the pipeline would be in Canada’s economic interests.

And that’s just absurd.

You can’t tout the economic benefits of the energy system while simultaneously ignoring the system’s environmental impacts – choosing instead to focus only on the direct environmental impacts which come along with constructing a pipeline (and even in this extremely narrow assessment, the NEB recommended 209 conditions – many of which should never have been conditions of approval at all, but rather addressed upfront as part of the approval process. What happens if Enbridge can’t meet the conditions? The go-ahead has already been given, the money will have already changed hands. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, even after you’ve discovered it tastes horrible).

Mulcair, Trudeau and May on Pipelines

Of course, with regards to the Northern Gateway, there’s a general feeling that what the NEB had to say about the pipeline didn’t really matter anyway – because the pipeline is never going to get built. Opposition from First Nations and environmentalists, along with calls from Leaders of Canada’s two largest opposition parties to shelve the pipeline will almost assuredly kill the project.

Yes, both NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have been vocal in their opposition to Northern Gateway. Trudeau has been against the pipeline due to the physical impacts which the pipeline is anticipated to have on Northern BC’s rugged natural environment, and due to the lack of consultation with impacted First Nations. Mulcair has been critical for both of those reasons, and because he believes that the export of raw bitumen represents a lost opportunity for Canadian job creation and the establishment of a value-added refining industry.

The Green Party’s Elizabeth May has been vocal in her opposition for all of those reasons – and because of the impacts which the expansion of the tar sands will assuredly have on Canada achieving our emissions reduction targets – and doing our part to combat the climate crisis.

Dismissing Justin Trudeau and the Liberals

Justin Trudeau, due to his support of the Keystone XL pipeline, has really put himself in a box when it comes to the climate crisis. And that box is labelled “Not Credible”. I’m not going to spend much time assessing the Liberal Party’s position on energy and climate change, because it is so akin to that of the Conservative Party’s status quo that nit-picking the minor differences would be a futile exercise. A lack of a plan to price carbon, coupled with years of inactivity while in government, has led me to conclude that the Liberals have zero credibility on the issue, in my opinion.

Tom Mulcair and the NDP's New Energy Vision

The NDP, however, is a bit of a different story. Certainly NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has been making some positive noises about taking the climate crisis seriously. In a recent speech to the Economic Club of Canada, Mulcair had a lot of positive things to say about developing the “clean tech” sector (which I discussed earlier in my blogpost, “NDP Ups its Game: One Green’s Take on Mulcair’s Energy Vision”, December 5, 2013).

Further, the NDP have generally been against pipelines, demonstrating their “green cred” on this issue. Mulcair has long opposed both Northern Gateway and Keystone XL. And while the NDP have been rather silent on Enbridge’s proposed Line 9 reversal (even though Line 9 traverses through numerous ridings which are sure to be battlegrounds for the NDP in 2015 – while offering little or no local economic benefit). And in the recent British Columbia provincial election, NDP Leader Adrian Dix publicly expressed his Party’s opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposal, which would see a major increase of bitumen flowing into the Port of Vancouver.

Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline

If built, the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain proposal would represent a massive opportunity for flowing unprocessed bitumen to an existing deepwater Pacific port. The Globe and Mail’s comparison of Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway (“Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain: How two pipeline projects compare”, Globe and Mail, December 22 2013) tells a very interesting story. While Northern Gateway, if constructed, would have capacity to transport 595 thousand barrels of bitumen a day, Trans Mountain would triple its current capacity and carry as much as 890 thousand barrels of bitumen a day.

There would also be significant issues for the City of Vancouver if Trans Mountain gets the go-ahead, including impacts on tanker traffic (the Globe and Mail reports that there could be as many as 34 tankers a month traversing the Burrard Inlet in an expansion scenario, versus the current 5 per month). Those, and other physical environmental concerns are important, but I’m not going to dwell on them for the purposes of this post. Instead, my concern is focused simply on how the upgrades to Trans Mountain would facilitate the expansion of the tar sands – and why that would not be in Canada’s long term economic interests.

Tangled Policy Direction: Kinder Morgan and the NDP

It’s not clear to me that former BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix really understood the climate change concerns and negative economic impacts posed by Kinder Morgan before he did a 180 degree turn during the 2013 spring election and rejected the pipeline. Dix was mostly focused on tanker traffic – along with wooing voters from the upstart BC Green Party – when he made his pitch to reject the pipeline. Later, this change of tack in the midst of an election was cited by NDP forensic electoral analysts as one of the major reasons for the NDP’s unexpected election defeat.

Now, Dix is gone, and the NDP are free to chart a new course. And that’s just what federal Leader Tom Mulcair appears to be doing with regards to Kinder Morgan. Interestingly, it appears that the NDP will now embrace Trans Mountain as part of their pre-election strategy to woo voters (presumably from the Liberals and Conservatives) in British Columbia (see: “Mulcair confident in the face of sinking polls”, Peter O’Neil, the Vancouver Sun, December 23, 2013)

NDP's Inconsistencies on Kinder Morgan

What’s clear to me (and will become increasingly clear to voters as well) is that Mulcair’s position on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain is not at all consistent with his Energy Vision laid out earlier this month to the Economic Club of Canada – not from a climate change perspective, and certainly not internally consistent with this own broad energy policy approach. Let’s look at the second part first.

Mulcair told the Economic Club that Canada must begin the heavy lifting of creating a 21st Century energy system, based on a mix of renewable generation and smart grid technology. He made the connections between this industrial project, job creation and economic prosperity. With regards to fossil fuels, aside from laying out the case for better access and a social license for resource extraction, what Mulcair was really talking about was holding the line on tar sands expansion by insisting that the NDP would put a price on carbon through a cap and trade scheme, and by supporting an East-West pipeline but only if a refining industry could create Canadian jobs first. In essence, both of these measures would negatively impact any and all tar sands expansion plans – while promoting responsible and more sustainable resource development.

Mulcair was not talking about shutting down the tar sands – nobody in Canadian politics today is doing that. But he was talking about slowing down their growth by stalling transport capacity, while simultaneously creating value-added jobs for Canadians in the oil sector, and shifting in a massive and comprehensive way to renewables.

But now that Mulcair has reversed the NDP’s position on Kinder Morgan, all bets are off. The Kinder Morgan pipeline, if approved, will allow for a greater rate of expansion for the tar sands than we are witnessing today – which goes completely against the course outlined by Mulcair to the Economic Club. This recent change in position is not consistent with slowing growth.

Facilitating Tar Sands Expansion - Not Meeting Emissions Reductions Targets

And then there’s climate change. As outlined earlier, pipeline construction will allow the expansion of the tar sands industrial enterprise, and increase greenhouse gas emissions. These increases to emissions will mean that Canada won’t meet our emissions reductions targets – and will exacerbate the warming of the planet beyond 2 degrees Celsius, which threatens to bring about a global economic collapse.

Mulcair, in his New Energy Vision, ostensibly told the Economic Club of Canada that he was going to get serious about tackling the climate crisis. But now, by embracing Kinder Morgan, it’s clear that he was either just bluffing, has decided to pander for votes in BC, or simply doesn’t understand climate change.

Mulcair's Kinder Morgan Reversal - Political Winner for the Green Party

Further, I believe that this reversal of the NDP’s position on Kinder Morgan will prove a loser for Mulcair in the long run. Not only is his reversal inconsistent with the NDP’s New Energy Vision, and inconsistent with measures needed to get serious about climate change, but it creates an opportunity for the Green Party of Canada to corner the anti-Kinder Morgan vote in Vancouver.

Already, the Green Party of Canada is polling very well in British Columbia – the latest EKOS numbers have the Greens at 18%, making BC one of the highest polling jurisdictions for Greens in the world. While those numbers might be somewhat inflated, it is fair to say that the Greens are doing well in BC, having elected Elizabeth May federally in 2011 and Andrew Weaver provincially in 2013. And with BC already a battleground between the Liberals, NDP and Conservatives, it stands to reason that an aggressive Green campaign centred around the right candidate could find the Greens coming up the middle in certain ridings.

With opposition to Kinder Morgan in BC centred in Metro Vancouver and on the Island, it’s pretty fair to think that Mulcair may lose votes to the Green Party – which now remains the only federal party opposed to Kinder Morgan. Interestingly, Vancouver and Vancouver Island are the centres of Green strength in BC, and province-wide polls might actually be underselling voters existing preferences for the Green Party in those regions. If that’s the case (and it probably is), the NDP is going to find itself in real trouble in Vancouver over this move of Mulcair’s.

NDP: Putting Partisan Gain Ahead of Public Good

Now, look, I want to give Mulcair the benefit of the doubt here on climate change. I really think he does understand its dynamics – including the need to hold warming at 2 degrees Celsius. But it’s not clear to me that the NDP hasn’t watered down its past pledges to get serious about climate change. In his Economic Club speech, Mulcair talked only about Canada meeting its current “commitments” (Copenhagen), rather than the emissions reduction targets the NDP had been playing up for years and years now (those that were enshrined in Kyoto). So, if Mulcair does understand how climate change works, why is it he seems poised to take his party backward on the issue?

Clearly, it’s all about pandering to voters. Mulcair knows where his battlegrounds are, and what he must do to win enough votes to form government in 2015. Along with holding Quebec and most of BC, Mulcair needs to win suburban Ontario – and that’s where his step back on Kyoto and embrace of Kinder Morgan will likely win votes.

Kinder Morgan really isn’t a top of the line issue for most Ontario voters, despite its connection to climate change and economic collapse. I think it’s fair to say that most voters throughout Canada might not be thinking the same way that I am about this issue. Point here is that the NDP will be able to tell Ontario voters that they support pipelines and non-renewable resource expansion – as long as it’s the right pipeline (as if there could be such a thing!). Such an approach may warm Ontario voters to the notion that the NDP isn’t the party of economic mismanagement which so many in my province fear they are. This kindler, gentler (from a short-term economic perspective) NDP will sell itself well in Ontario.

And the same goes for relaxing its policy on climate change. Oh, I’m sure they’ll talk a good talk about climate change, in an effort to convince voters that they’ll take real action on the issue (and in comparison to the Conservatives and Liberals, it won’t be a tough sell for the NDP to make to voters) – but at the end of the day, these scoped actions on the part of the NDP will mean that Canada will continue to be a climate laggard, and will do nothing for ensuring that Canada is doing its part to help ensure that the 2 degree Celsius climate threshold isn’t breached.

In short, the NDP is going to sacrifice good public policy for a short term vote grab. And that’s not what Canada needs.

NDP: Leaving the Environmental and Economic Playing Field Open for a Green Party Push

So it really is all about strategy. Mulcair has probably already written off retaining all of his urban BC seats, given the strength of the Liberals and Conservatives in BC. When a small loss is already in the cards, Mulcair’s reversal on Kinder Morgan might actually help with the NDP’s campaign in BC by bolstering the fortunes of the Green Party. This might at first seem counterintuitive, but the fact is that successful Green campaigns are not always drawing voters from the NDP – statistics show that both the Liberals and the NDP are about equally effected, with the Conservatives impacted to a lesser degree. In the right riding, a strong Green campaign could draw enough votes from the Liberals to allow a New Democrat to be elected. 3-way races are a bit of a crap shoot in elections anyway. 4-way races are even more so. Mulcair has always been a gambler – so the Kinder Morgan strategy might make sense for 2015 because of BC’s electoral dynamics and the NDP’s Ontario strategy. At least in 2015.

Beyond that, Mulcair might be jeopardizing the NDP's chances of success if the Green Party is able to capitalize on building a regional power base in BC. It's no secret that the NDP fears the rise of the Green Party - it's gone to extrordinary lengths to keep the Green Party down, often to the silly point of refusing to acknowledge its existence by not naming it publicly. More importantly, the NDP has participated in a concerted effort to keep the Green Party out of televised Leaders debates nationally, and in a number of provinces as well. Greens won't soon forget that former NDP Leader Jack Layton twice publicly sought to keep Green Leader Elizabeth May out of the televised leadership debates. A public outcry (and supportive Liberal Leader) condemned Layton's efforts in 2008 - but in 2011, with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff onside, May was kept silent.

Greens: Putting Planet Before Party

In some ways, this NDP strategem sits well with me. Goodness knows that I’d rather have Mulcair as Prime Minister than Harper (or any other Conservative) or Trudeau, so if Mulcair thinks he can win this way, more power to him. And, as a Green, I can’t help but applaud circumstances which might allow more of my Party’s candidates to be elected, and that’s one of the outcomes I see from Mulcair’s reversal on Kinder Morgan. That being said, I have to put the value of the planet ahead of any partisan aspirations that I have, and because I value the planet, I am forced to condemn Mulcair’s approach to Kinder Morgan.

To me, it’s very clear that the NDP is not going to take combatting climate change seriously – despite the noises it is making. Yes, at least under an NDP government, some steps forward be taken, while offset by steps backwards. At least, though, that’s a better approach than on offer from the Conservatives and the Liberals – both of whom would take Canada in one direction only – backwards. But half measures at this point in our history are not what we need – not if we are going to stave off economic collapse as a result of blowing through the 2 degrees Celsius warming threshold. And that’s why Mulcair and the NDP are failing Canadians, in my opinion.

The good news is that the Green Party appears to be on the rise in Canada – and certainly the groundwork is being laid now in BC to make the Greens a regional player. If a small caucus of Greens is elected in 2015, come the next election, the Green Party will be able to show Canadians throughout all regions that we are an important contender with different priorities and ideas from any of the other old-line parties mired in their twentieth century views of politics. I really do believe that, thanks to Tom Mulcair, the opportunity for the Green Party to find its way forward has been elevated. The ball is now in our own court to capitalize on Mulcair’s foolish – and economically dangerous – plan to embrace Kinder Morgan and flout Canada’s emissions reductions commitments.

But Canada, and the world, will assuredly come to resent the NDP’s wishy-washy approach to climate change.

(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, December 24, 2013

The Economic Case Against the Tar Sands, Part 1: Why Our Best Future Economic Indicator is 2 Degrees Celsius

2 degrees Celsius is fast becoming the most critical number of the 21st Century. It is the number on which economic decisions are going to have to be based on as we move deeper into the decade. As an economic target, it is more important that GDP growth, more important than the unemployment rate. That’s because if our economic activity takes us past 2 degrees Celsius, it could very well be game over for the economy – and human industrial civilization as we know it.

2 degrees C represents the amount of warming which the Earth can likely tolerate without triggering positive feedback loops which risk taking us into a runaway climate change scenario. The best available science suggests that if the global average temperature rises about 2 degrees C, it is quite likely that northern permafrost in Siberia and Canada will melt, releasing vast quantities of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, which has the potential as acting as the impetus for an abrupt shift in global climate.

A Science-based Case for Global Economic Health

The perils of the changing climate we are experiencing today are well established. More heat in the air means more humidity – which leads to more intense weather events, such as microbursts and their attendant flash flooding. Trapped heat is also melting glaciers, some of which feed our major river systems – used as a drinking water source by billions. Arctic sea ice continues to melt, causing a rise in sea level which contributes to storm surges (such as the one experienced by New York and New Jersey during hurricane Sandy). All of this has been happening with an average annual global temperature rise of only 0.8 degrees from pre-industrial levels.

Beyond 2 degrees Celsius of warming, in a world which experiences substantial methane release, the changes brought about will be catastrophic. The multiple systems failures expected in this scenario could very well lead to global economic collapse. The breakdown of the global food system alone could lead to starvation for billions. Food system breakdowns on a local scale almost always lead to political unrest. It is not beyond the realm of probability to suggest that the same would likely happen on a global scale.

Already the costs of climate change have been estimated to be $40 billion annually for Canadians by the year 2050 (source: National Roundtable on Environment and Energy – document no longer available on government website)– and that’s not taking into consideration the possibility of abrupt climate change brought on by events triggered by blowing through the 2 degrees Celsius threshold. This may be because scientists have been very firm in their warning that the 2 degrees Celsius barrier is one which we dare not pass through. In fact, many are now suggesting that the barrier itself may be too liberal – and that it would be better to target only 1.5 or 1 degrees Celsius of warming.

Why Staying on Target Won't Work

Getting warming under control will require a massive reduction in fossil fuel use. At Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, international leaders acknowledged the importance of the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, and pledged to reduce carbon emissions. When all of the pledges were ultimately calculated, it was determined that the world would be on target to a 3.5 to 4.2 degrees Celsius rise in global temperatures. And that’s only if emissions reductions targets were actually achieved.

At Copenhagen, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged that Canada would reduce its emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. This emission reduction target actually represents a rise in emissions of about 3% from 1990 levels, which Canada had previously committed to under Kyoto. Nevertheless, this new target represented a better outcome for emissions than a “business as usual” approach. And Canada has seen a small reduction in emissions over the past several years, thanks largely to Ontario, which has closed coal generating stations, and which has experienced a significant loss in manufacturing jobs thanks to the economic downturn.

The Threat Posed By the Tar Sands

One industrial project, however, threatens to overwhelm gains in emissions reductions from all other sectors in Canada. The expansion of the tar sands industrial enterprise is already eclipsing those gains made by Ontario and the other provinces, as production continues to ramp up. At current rates of increase, it is certain that because of the tar sands, Canada will fail to meet our watered-down emissions reduction target, barring probably a significant global economic collapse.

When new transport capacity in the form of pipelines are added into the mix, the rate of tar sands industrial expansion is increased significantly – as will be the carbon emissions from the enterprise. Bringing any one of several bitumen pipelines online in the next decade will facilitate the circumstances for expansion.

What We Know

To recap, here’s what we know:

1) Warming must be held at 2 degrees Celsius – or we risk experiencing economic catastrophe brought on by runaway climate change.

2) The only way to avoid blowing through the 2 degrees C barrier is to vastly reduce fossil fuel emissions.

3) At Copenhagen in 2009, global leaders pledged to reduce emissions – but only by enough to hold warming at catastrophic levels of between 3.5 and 4.2 degrees.

4) Canada’s watered-down emissions reduction pledge of 17% below 2005 levels will not be met, based on current trends – thanks to the expansion of the tar sands industrial enterprise already underway.

5) Bitumen pipeline expansion will only increase fossil fuel emissions.

Accordingly, How We Must Act

Based on what we know, let’s work backwards and determine what we must do:

1) Prevent the increase of fossil emissions from the tar sands by constraining tar sands growth through the prohibition of new transport capacity.

2) Work with the international community to develop and meet emissions reduction targets which ensure that the 2 degrees C threshold is not broached.

3) Invest heavily in renewable energy production and distribution systems to replace fossil fuels and carbon-based energy and transportation systems.

There isn’t any other realistic alternatives to the logic model outlined above – not if we’re going to do what we can to prevent a global economic catastrophe thanks to runaway climate change triggered by positive feedback loops from warming beyond the 2 degrees C threshold.

Keep the above in mind throughout 2014 as debate rages about what Canada ought to do with regards to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Line 9 reversal pipeline proposals, and Kinder-Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline proposal. Keep it in mind as well as President Obama continues to dither on a decision related to the Keystone XL pipeline. Greenlighting any of these pipeline proposals will be a violation of Item No. 1, above, under “What we Must Do”. The facts are well known, and the logic model is sound.

National Energy Board - A Bogus Environmental and Economic Assessment Process

Yet, Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) recently came to the conclusion that building the Northern Gateway pipeline would be in Canada’s best economic interest. For me, it is absolutely impossible to understand how the NEB could have possibly come to that conclusion, based on the facts outlined above. The long-term economic interests of Canada, and the world for that matter, can only be served by holding warming at 2 degrees Celsius. Decisions which facilitate more fossil fuel emissions will only quicken the pace of warming and the attendant global economic collapse.

The 21st Century's Defining Industrial Project

As difficult as it may be, we really don’t have any choice but to begin the process of abandoning all fossil fuel energy enterprises, and begin working on what is sure to be the 21st Century’s greatest industrial achievement: the construction of a renewable distributed energy systems. The foundations for these systems are already being laid, but at a maddeningly slow pace thanks to our continued investments in fossil fuel expansion. Investing in fossil fuels at this time in our history is a massive misallocation of public (and private) resources which we can no longer tolerate.

Our political leaders don’t seem to be getting the message – or if they are, they are too timid to speak openly and honestly to the voting public about the coming economic crisis and the need for change.

In Part 2 of this series, I’ll explore what Canada can do to play its role in preventing the coming crisis.

Note: While I have written specifically about Canada’s tar sands, I have to acknowledge that the tar sands are only one piece of the global energy puzzle which must be wound down in order to avoid climate catastrophe. Globally, the use of coal carries a significant risk for the climate – and yet, we continue to invest in coal. Natural gas, too, often touted as “clean” is anything but – and yet, massive investments in new extraction and transport technology are being made throughout the world. My focus on the tar sands was not to suggest that preventing its expansion would save the planet from climate catastrophe – it won’t. Instead, it is one significant major industrial project over which we Canadians have control – and if we are to do our part, it is one enterprise on which we must act.

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

Savage Reaction to Hyer's Greening Shows NDP Can't Be Trusted with Democratic Reform

What a whirlwind the last couple of days have been for the Green Party of Canada. Not only did the Green Party double its caucus on Friday, with the addition of Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer, but the Green Party became the focus of attack by the NDP this past weekend over Hyer’s move. Throw in Green Party Elizabeth May being named one of Canada’s Top 3 Most Valuable MP’s by the Hill Times today, and it’s clearly been an exciting time.

What was certainly one of the worst-kept secrets in Ottawa became public knowledge this past Friday the 13th, when TBSN MP Bruce Hyer, accompanied by Elizabeth May, met with the press in Thunder Bay. Hyer, who had been serving his constituents as an Independent since leaving the NDP caucus in April, 2012, over vote-whipping, signed a Green Party membership form and announced that he would now be sitting as a Green. Hyer’s announcement was the cue for the NDP to start up their cynical attack machine in a weak effort to downplay the significance of the day’s announcement.

NDP Engages in Scathing Personal Attacks

Interestingly, the majority of the NDP’s attack appeared to centre on New Democratic party members lack of understanding of how Canada’s parliamentary system actually works. Charlie Angus (MP – Timmins-James Bay), led the way by demanding – in the interests of democracy - that Hyer step down and face a by-election. Angus apparently didn’t see the irony in his call for a by-election - the irony being, of course, that the NDP’s own anti-democratic vote-whipping was the primary reason that Hyer left the NDP in the first place. Had the NDP allowed its members to vote in the interests of the very same constituents which Angus was crying fraud on behalf of, it’s doubtful that Hyer would have ever found himself on his year-and-a-half long trek to the Green Party.

Later that day, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair got in on the act in a big way. On Don Martin’s “Power Play”, Mulcair made a number of disgustingly scathing personal comments about Bruce Hyer, calling him “unreliable” and questioning whether Hyer was a “man of his word”. In what must be one of the most over-the-top remarks of the year, Mulcair even stated that Bruce Hyer had “any values whatsoever, he’d resign”. Clearly, from the NDP’s perspective, a man like Hyer who stands up to his Party on behalf of his constituents must be without any and all values.

To engage in their attack, both Angus and Mulcair broke the NDP’s unwritten rule of giving the Green Party credence by mentioning its name. And what a mistake that proved for the NDP, as the point they tried to make – that all but 3% of voters in Thunder Bay-Superior North voted AGAINST the Green Party in the 2011 federal election – made them look foolish. As if anybody really believes that voters in that riding set out to cast their ballots for “anybody but the Greens”. I can promise you that keeping the Green Party down was not on the minds of voters at the ballot box in TBSN in 2011.

Civics Lesson Needed for Mindless NDP Partisans

The mindless and uninformed partisan attacks continued throughout the weekend on media commenting sites, Twitter and Facebook. All appeared to be informed by the NDP’s comprehensive misunderstanding of our parliamentary system – and about what democracy means in Canada. I can understand that the NDP might be upset that Hyer left their Party to eventually join the Greens – and that, despite the intervening time spent as an Independent, Hyer’s move might still be considered a “floor crossing” (even though he’s physically going to stay put in the same seat that he’s occupied for the past year and a half, right next to Elizabeth May). What I just don’t get is why the NDP wants to misrepresent our democratic system to Canadians for their own cynical, partisan gain.

The NDP and its supporters have often been amongst the first to correct the record when right-wing voices bellow about “unelected” governments, such as that of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (although the most famous one being one which didn’t happen – when the Liberals and NDP got together back at the end of 2008 to enter into a coalition government – which was eventually thwarted by Stephen Harper proroguing parliament). In these circumstances, the NDP has often leapt to the defence of our Westminster Parliamentary system – or at the very least, have had the good sense to refrain for calls for costly and unnecessary elections. Simply put, the NDP knows that we don’t elect Premiers and Prime Ministers in this country – we elect parliaments.

While radical right-wing voices would have Canadians believe that, for example, Premier Wynne lacks a public mandate to govern because her party never faced an election with her as leader, the fact is that our system doesn’t work that way – and despite having enjoyed significant opportunities to change that system when in power, Conservatives going back to Confederation have opted not to mess around with that aspect of our parliamentary system. For them, calls for resignation have simply become a useful tool to fool Canadians into thinking that we have a Presidential system of governance, similar to that of our southern neighbour. These calls are disingenuous at best – and a blight on our democracy at worst.

Similarly, the NDP’s call for Hyer to face a by-election is based on a complete misunderstanding of our parliamentary system – one which is obviously deliberate on the part of the New Democratic Party, designed to fool the public into thinking a certain way which aligns with their own anti-democratic principles. By calling for a by-election when an elected Member of Parliament moves from one Party to another (or, in Hyer’s case, simply joins a new Party), the NDP has clearly shown its contempt for the voting public.

Elections: People, Not Parties

Simply put, the NDP wants Canadians to think that we elect political parties rather than individuals. The political hue of a candidate, for the NDP, must take precedence over all else – to the point that when that colour changes, the NDP believes that the parliamentarian must resign.

Well, I’ve got news for the NDP – in Canada, we don’t elect colours. We elect people. And more importantly, those elected members of parliament are sent to Ottawa to serve the interests of their constituents as representatives of the geographic areas from which voters elected them. They are intended to serve the interests of the public ahead of all else. Yet the NDP wants Canadians to believe that the interests of political parties must be the first and foremost priority of elected officials – likely because this regressive and shameful way of thinking serves the NDP’s own partisan interest in ironclad party discipline and message control.

Deliberately Misleading

Shame on the NDP for trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Canadians with their deceptive and incorrect interpretation of our Westminster parliamentary system. This past weekend, I saw numerous NDP supporters opine that floor crossers should be forced to face a by-election when announcing for a new party. Be that as it may, NDP governments have held power provincially in B.C., Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia at times in the past – and at no time was legislation about floor crossing ever debated by provincial parliaments. Which is why, I believe, that we can take the NDP’s “position” on this matter with equal weight to that of the radical right-wingers who believe a change in party leadership should trigger an election.

If you think that I’m wrong about this, consider this little thought experiment. If Charlie Angus chose to resign his seat from parliament tomorrow, would the NDP demand that he be replaced by another New Democrat? Clearly not – in the interests of democracy, a by-election would be held.

But how would Angus’ resignation be any different, from the NDP’s perspective, than Hyer leaving the NDP and joining the Greens? If the NDP asserts that Hyer, a sitting member of parliament, should resign because voters in TBSN voted 97% against the Green Party, wouldn’t the reverse then be true for Timmins-James Bay, where a real majority of voters chose the NDP to represent them? If the actual person doesn’t matter to the NDP (Hyer continues to sit in parliament), why the need for a costly by-election for resigning members?

It’s not a stretch to realize the real similarities between the two scenarios – only in the NDP’s world, people as representatives of the voters appear to be important only in one scenario, while the colour of the political party is paramount in the other.

For NDP, Political Colours Matter. People Don't

I had the pleasure of mixing it up on social media with a number of NDP partisans over the weekend, who attempted to defend the NDP’s indefensible anti-democratic tradition. By and large, it appears that the NDP is confusing voter motivation with the electoral process. While there is certainly merit in suggesting that voters are motivated to vote for an MP based on party affiliation, the actual process of voting itself requires the election of a real person, and not just a party colour stand-in. No matter the party affiliation of an elected representative, that individual will need to explain any and all actions at the time of the next election, should they decide to run again. If voters are motivated to cast their ballots for a different individual based on the past actions of an incumbent, so be it – the fact is, there are a lot of reasons why voters cast their ballots in the ways that they do. Ultimately, it’s a personal process which all voters go through to arrive at the decision for whom to cast their ballot.

NDP partisans, however, appear to be relying on the notion that Members of Parliament run for office on a clearly outlined policy platform, which they promise to never deviate from at every opportunity. By making this declaration, NDP MP’s subject themselves to the will of the Party as manifested by the Party Whip – voting en masse for or against a motion without the need to think further.

This past weekend, Elizabeth May referred to this as “checking your brain at the door” – a practice that I’m pretty sure most Canadians don’t really want to see our MP’s engage in – despite their voting patterns.

For NDP partisans, though, party discipline means everything – and Hyer, who placed the interests of his constituents before those of his party, defying the whip on a long gun registry vote, had already made himself an enemy of the Party. He was duly punished for the better part of a year, forced to sit silently in the back rows of the NDP caucus, not allowed to so much as speak about local events happening the riding, or honour its residents. In short, for breaking party discipline, the NDP forced him to abandon doing his job of looking out for his constituents.

Yet, in the mind of NDP partisans, this is somehow what “democracy” is supposed to be about.

To Defend Democracy, You Should Understand It

I’m sorry, NDP, but your narrow and regressive version of democracy – if it’s what you really believe in - isn’t one that I share. I suspect you’ll find that most Canadians, and even members of your own party, believe that the people we send to Ottawa to represent our interests are more important that the colours that they represent. The very idea that our elected officials should put the interests of their party ahead of their constituents is abhorrent – and says a considerable deal about why our democracy is in shambles today.

But rather than side with the Green Party in a meaningful attempt to reform our democratic practices, the NDP instead has decided to play nonsensical partisan political games over Bruce Hyer’s move to the Green Party. They’ve personally attacked Bruce Hyer, by questioning his integrity and values (suggesting that he doesn’t have any of either). They’re trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Canadians by pretending our system functions in a way that it doesn’t. The personal attacks and public deceptions on the part of the NDP are assuredly part of the reason why Canadians are turned off of politics in the first place.

Personal Frustrations with the NDP

I regret having to write this kind of blogpost, because it appears that I’ve done nothing here but attack the NDP – albeit for the NDP’s deception and dishonesty. I don’t like to engage in these kinds of counter attacks, but the display put on by the NDP this past weekend over Hyer becoming a Green was truly reprehensible. I live in a riding where the NDP has elected MP’s and MPP’s without much of a contest over the past number of elections. I think that if NDP supporters truly knew how this party operated, they would demand change from within. I know that some are doing that, but they continue to face the wall of party discipline and game-playing which the backroom leadership of the NDP believes is the route to electoral success.

NDP members and supporters should expect – and demand – more from their Party. I was proud of those NDP supporters from across Canada who called on former leader Jack Layton to change his anti-democratic decision to go along with the Broadcast Consortium’s move to bar Elizabeth May from participating in the 2008 televised leader’s debates. This upwelling of democratic support from NDP members showed me that, despite their Party’s track record, there are New Democrats throughout Canada who really are committed to bettering our democracy.

Yet, as the years have gone by, I’ve seen little evidence emerge from the NDP that their so-called democratic reform initiatives are worth the paper that they’re printed on. Since 2008, NDP governments in Nova Scotia and Manitoba have done nothing to enrich democratic processes in those provinces. And now, federal NDP supporters want Canadians to believe that Tom Mulcair’s NDP is going to carry the democratic reform banner in the 2015 national election. It’s just too much to believe.

If I am hard on the NDP, it is because I have always expected better from this Party than from the Liberals or Conservatives. Don’t take my direct criticism of the NDP to mean that I somehow support what the Liberals and Conservatives are doing to advance the interests of Canadians democracy. Indeed, it’s the exact opposite – the actions of those two parties are the ones which have created the gulf of Canada’s democratic deficit in the first place – and which has allowed the NDP to play fast and loose with our democratic principles.
As much as this will sound like my own partisanship, it’s increasingly become clear to me that only the Green Party can be trusted with acting on restoring democracy to Canada and our provinces. I’ve been following the discussions about the need for political parties to co-operate with one another for some time now – as part of an effort to oust the Conservatives from power. There may have been a time which I would have subscribed to such an effort as being a worthy initiative – but clearly, with the behaviour of the Liberals and especially that of the NDP, it’s become clear to me now that neither of these parties is at all interested in advancing the cause of democracy in Canada.

And this really does upset me – because at the end of the day, I am personally far more interested in having this issue advanced by whomever than I am by having partisan gain accrue to my Party because we are its only champion. I would rather see real democratic reform occur under an NDP majority government in a House with zero MP’s elected from the Green Party.

But if the NDP doesn’t even understand how our parliamentary system works – or worse, is being deliberately misleading about it to Canadians (which is what the NDP is doing), how can it be trusted to look after reform?

It can’t.

(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)


For a less partisan, and more concise take on the NDP’s “stunning degree of civic ignorance” over Hyer’s joining the Green Party, here’s a great post from Dale Smith’s “Routine Proceedings” blog, “Charlie Angus’ Wrongheaded Understanding of Our Democracy”.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Green Party - Table for Two?

There’s been a lot of speculation all week that Thunder Bay-Superior North Member of Parliament Bruce Hyer (Independent) is getting ready to join the Green Party of Canada. Last week, Hyer made it known to local Thunder Bay media that he would be making an announcement on Friday, December 13th, regarding his future plans in parliament – including a shift from Independent status. This past weekend, he told the CBC that he could never return to a party which whipped votes – and that his joining a party would have to be on his terms, as an “Independent-Plus”.

I’ve learned to take little for granted in politics, but the since Hyer’s announcement last week, it’s seemed pretty clear to everybody that the Green Party would be doubling its caucus in Parliament, with Hyer joining Elizabeth May at the table. Interestingly, if MP Hyer does join the Green Party, it will be the shortest-ever “floor crossing” Canada’s parliament has ever witnessed, as Hyer won’t actually be crossing the floor – or even moving at all. May and Hyer are already seated adjacent to one another in the House of Commons (Hyer in seat 308, while May is in seat 309 – not sure why there are 309 seats in a House built for 307 MP’s and 1 Speaker, but there you go).

The Past is Prologue

Bruce Hyer was elected under the NDP’s banner in 2008, and again in 2011. Shortly after the 2011 election, Hyer lost his speaking privileges with the NDP after voting against his Party’s wishes on the dismantling of the long gun registry (along with Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP John Rafferty). After months of being silenced, new NDP Leader Tom Mulcair invited him back into the fold. Hyer questioned what role he would play in shadow cabinet – the answer was “none” – and he asked if he would be able to vote for the wishes of his constituents again or have to face the whip – the answer was the whip comes first, always.

So Hyer quit the NDP to sit as an Independent, where he believed he could do more to express the wishes of his constituents.
And he’s been sitting as an Independent since April, 2012. I shared my thoughts regarding what I thought Hyer’s next move ought to be back in late April, 2012 (see: “Bruce Hyer and the Values of Political Parties” , Sudbury Steve May, April 30, 2012). Not surprisingly, I came to the conclusion that Hyer might really want to think about joining Elizabeth May and the Green Party, for a number of reasons. I’m not sure that it was one of my better blogposts – it received only one comment – but for me, it was a very valuable one – it was from Bruce Hyer.

Many pundits this week are already writing off Hyer’s electoral chances in 2015 should he decide to run for the Green Party. On the surface, given the Party’s lack of success in the riding (and more generally, throughout Northern Ontario), it might seem a stretch to think that the good voters of Thunder Bay-Superior North are going to return Hyer to parliament under the Green Party’s banner. That kind of tree-hugging nonsense doesn’t play well in cold, resource-based communities anyway – so what’s Hyer thinking?

The Green Party - Elusive Electoral Success

Let’s break this down a little further. First off, the Green Party’s success rate in Thunder Bay-Superior North is no better – or no worse – than it has been in a multitude of Canadian ridings. In the 2011 election, the Green Party’s Scott Kyle received just 3% of the vote – which was only slightly below the 3.9% average for all Green Party candidates in that election. In 2008, the Green candidate received a healthier 6.9% - just slightly above the 6.7% average of all Green candidates. And the 2008 race in TBSN was a close one between the NDP and Liberals, with the Conservatives increasing their vote share. In 2011, the NDP widened the gap, the Liberals fell to third place, and the Conservative numbers continued to climb for a second place finish. Interestingly, the outcomes and the narratives of those two elections were almost exactly what we here in Sudbury experienced.

The fact is, even in ridings were Greens did a fair bit better in general elections in 2008 and 2011, for the most part, Greens didn’t challenge the old line parties anywhere – save for Elizabeth May in Central Nova in 2011 and Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2011. In 2011, our next best finishes were 19% (and 3rd place) in the Yukon, and 15% in Vancouver Centre (4th place) and 15% in Dufferin-Caledon (2nd place). This would have been a real downer for the Green Party of Canada had we not succeeded in implementing our election strategy – get leader Elizabeth May elected at all cost.

Green Election Strategies

Some pundits have criticized the Green Party for making the 2011 general election all about May. Unlike in 2008, there really wasn’t much of an effort to engage in a national campaign. May spent most of her time knocking on doors in Saanich-Gulf Islands, both pre-writ and post. The Party poured money into that riding – in order to elect May, and to start building a regional base of operations on Vancouver Island. The strategy paid off – May got elected by a healthy margin, and the regional base continues to grow, with the BC Green Party electing MLA Andrew Weaver from the Island riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head. In 2012, Green Donald Galloway came within a few percentage points of taking Victoria in a by-election.

May’s election to parliament was critical for another reason – and it has everything to do with 2015. In 2008, Independent MP (and former Liberal) Blair Wilson had publicly joined the Green Party just days before Harper broke his fixed election law and called for a new mandate. With one Green MP in parliament (although never technically recognized as such), May (backed by concerned Canadians) was able to ultimately make a case to the Broadcast Consortium that she deserved to be a part of the televised Leader’s debates. As a result, it’s no wonder that 2008 was the Green Party’s best showing nationally. In 2011, without an MP, May was shut out of the televised debates. With an MP, it only stands to reason that May will be back in the televised debates in 2015, and the fortunes of the Green Party in the next election may very well be tied to her performance in the debate.

The point here is that the previous election isn’t the best indicator of the next election – especially in circumstances where a riding is targeted by a particular political party. Should Hyer decide to join the Greens, it can be expected that Thunder Bay-Superior North will be ground zero for the Green Party on election day 2015. Make no mistake – if Hyer joins the Green Party and runs in 2015, results from this riding are certain to be better than any Green has seen in Northern Ontario.

The Green Party and Resource Development

What about those pesky pro-environmental policies of the Green Party of Canada, though – won’t they turn off voters in a blue-collar town like Thunder Bay? Well – yes, they will turn off some voters – but others are sure to be energized by those policies. First of all, Thunder Bay isn’t really such a blue-collar town any more – it’s a city of 100,000 people, many of whom are employed in excellent jobs in the education and health care sectors. It’s a pretty progressive place, actually – progressive enough to elect an MP in 2008 and 2011 from the NDP despite his having few ties to unions (Hyer is a biologist and a forester, an environmentalist and tourist outfitter).

In my opinion (and let me be frank about “my opinion” here, as it’s one that I’ve given a great deal of thought to over the last several years), the Green Party’s biggest problems in Northern Ontario ridings have a lot more to do with communication than policy. Frankly, I see little reason why the Party’s platform wouldn’t resonate with a plurality of voters in Northern Ontario, particularly in our urban centres – and I’m certain that it would resonate, if only we could do a better job of communicating it to voters.

But the Green Party is anti-resource development, surely? And Northern Ontario cities and towns like Sudbury and Thunder Bay rely on mining and forestry for jobs.

No, the Green Party’s policies are not anti-resource development – we just have a different take on how our resources should be developed – sustainably, rather than not. But sustainable development will require a different way of looking at resource development, and the notion that doing things differently equates with a greater expense and lost jobs is, frankly, the wrong way of looking at the issue. If anything, sustainable resource development, even in non-renewable sectors such as mining, will surely create jobs and reduce expenses for taxpayers.

Sustainable Resource Development - A Compelling Narrative for Canadians

Should Hyer join the Green Party, he’s going to have to explain that trick to voters in his riding. It’s actually a very compelling story, one I know that Hyer will tell well, to all of Northern Ontario’s benefit. Should Hyer join the Green Party, I think it’s fair to say that we’ll finally have a voice which can’t be ignored speaking about sustainable resource development in Northern Ontario.

Think about it – what would sustainable development for Northwestern Ontario’s remote Ring of Fire look like? I’ll leave that with you to ponder – but suffice it to say, it won’t look anything like traditional mining camps which have been developed in the past – which are exactly the way that everybody thinks the ROF should be developed today. Hyer here has a golden opportunity to expound on 21st Century sustainable mining development, which is exactly what’s needed to move the Ring of Fire forward. Unquestionably, one component of sustainable development for the ROF will consist of value-added jobs being created in the region. Thunder Bay, with its major port on the Great Lakes, could benefit from the development of an entire new industry to smelt chromite and produce stainless steel, but only if we take the notion of sustainable development seriously.

The Green Party and Canadian Democracy

With all of that being said, though, it’s clear that there are a number of Green Party policy initiatives which will play very well in Thunder Bay-Superior North, particularly for Mr. Hyer. The Green Party is really the only party which is taking the democratic deficit seriously. In fact, it was the NDP’s own anti-democratic efforts which created this situation in the first place, by cutting Hyer off at the knees (well, at the microphone anyway) when he had the audacity to represent the interests of his constituents – the people whom elected him – rather than the interests of the Party whip.

No doubt died-in-the-wool NDP partisans will criticize Hyer’s “floor crossing” to join the Green Party as being anti-democratic (although, if they do so, they'd be violating the NDP's unwritten rule to never acknowledge the existence of the Green Party by uttering its name). NDP partisans will call for a by-election to be held in Thunder Bay-Superior North, because they want Canadians to believe that politicians elected under a specific banner need to stay in their place, or face the electorate for the gall of exercising their free will. These partisans should be reminded at every opportunity that Canadians elect people – real people, not party colours – to parliament to represent the voters who sent them there. And Bruce Hyer amongst all of Canada’s parliamentarians has clearly taken a principled stand on behalf of his constituents.

If the NDP want to challenge Hyer by trying to play the anti-democracy card, good luck to them.

And that one issue, more than any of the others, is going to be what resonates with voters in TBSN – that their elected official, Bruce Hyer, stood up to the game playing and nonsense of his former party to represent the will of the electorate – his constituents. He was punished for doing so – and by extension, so were his constituents. There can be no question that he will stand up again – in a heartbeat, if push came to shove. But by becoming first an Independent, and second (maybe) a member of the Green Party, Hyer will never again have to face making a choice of representing the interests of his constituents or that of his Party.

No Whip Required

But the Green Party is a political party, right? There will be an expectation that, as a member of that Party, that he’s going to have to vote a certain way on issues, surely? Well, yes and no – as a member of the Green Party, should Mr. Hyer join, there will be an expectation that he follows the party line on issues where the Party’s membership has created policy – but keep in mind, one of those member-approved policies explicitly states that the Green Party will never whip votes (adopted by the Party in August, 2012). We’re the only party which offers its MP’s that degree of flexibility. On matters which the Party has not adopted policy, it may very well be that Hyer and other Green MP’s turn to the party’s values for guidance. They may even discuss how they will vote. But at the end of the day, I would not be surprised to find Green MP’s voting differently on some matters. I think it’s fair to say that had Hyer been a part of the Green Party for the vote on the long gun registry, he and May would not have voted the same way. The difference being, of course, Hyer would not have been punished for voting for the will of his constituents had he been a Green. And that’s the hallmark of a truly progressive and democratic political party, in my opinion – one which tries to keep politics out of the political realm as much as possible.

Party Membership has its Electoral Privileges

Be that as it may, what’s the advantage for Bruce Hyer to now join the Green Party? Some pundits are suggesting that it’s because he likely won’t run again in 2015 (they’ve largely been the ones to write off Hyer’s hopes of being re-elected as a Green). I think it’s the exact opposite: it’s because Bruce Hyer wants to run again and win in 2015, to continue to provide the best possible public service to the voters of Thunder Bay-Superior North, that Hyer (may) join the Green Party, despite the apparent drawbacks.

It is fair to say that Hyer’s electoral success might have been better served if he decided to return to the NDP, or join the Liberals. But remember, Hyer clearly isn’t interested in his own success – at least not at all costs – “success” isn’t the primary engine of motivation here, clearly. Had Hyer been concerned about getting re-elected in 2015, he would have never left the NDP in the first place – and likely not voted on behalf of his constituents in the long gun registry vote.

The fact is, in our current electoral system, Independents have the deck stacked against them. Only members of political parties can reap the full benefits of our current electoral system – and it’s a damn shame, because it really shouldn’t be like this. The reality is, however, that one of the best predictors of electoral success has been, and continues to be, money. If you’re running as an independent, you are subject to the same rules for raising and spending money as are all other candidates, during an election campaign. But outside of the actual writ period, wannabe candidates can’t raise money for themselves or spend it.

But Electoral District Associations – those collections of local partisans who nominate the candidates – can. And do.

If you want to be a successful candidate at any level, part of your effort is going to require self-promotion. As an Independent, Hyer is really restricted in the sort of promotion he could engage in. But, if he had an EDA at his back, he technically wouldn’t have to engage in any self-promotion – he could instead rely on the EDA to do his promoting for him. The EDA can raise money between elections – and spend it. That means mail-outs, billboards, paying the travel expenses of big-name whoevers to come and show their support to the locals. Purchasing ads on the radio and in local newspapers. If you name it, the EDA can do it – whereas an Independent can’t.

Parties and Values

Hyer the Independent can’t help but see that if he really wants to continue representing the good people of TBSN, he can’t risk putting himself at a disadvantage to the other parties, who can spend like drunken sailors before election day. It’s in part because he is motivated by his public service, while grounded in our current, archaic electoral reality, that I believe Hyer will decide to join the Green Party. Of course, it’s also a happy coincidence that Hyer and the Green Party share so many of the same values.

Values which if, I believe, Independent MP Brent Rathgeber were to take a look at, might surprise him too. Rathgeber has already shown Canadians that he values democracy and public service. I sincerely hope that May and Hyer (if he joins the Greens) might have some serious conversations with Mr. Rathgeber about the benefits of whip-free Green Party membership. It's something to think about, Mr. Rathgeber.

And now, let’s wait and see where Friday the 13th takes us.

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