Friday, December 19, 2014

In Sudbury By-Election, the Only Vote for Change is a Vote for the Green Party

Sudbury has a chance to make history in 2015 – by electing the first Green Member of Provincial Parliament to the Ontario legislature in the upcoming by-election. Sending a Green to Queen's Park would be a bold statement from Sudburians that it's time we had real change in the business as usual approach of the old-line political parties. Sudburians would be acknowledging Ontario's growing desire to have other voices heard in our legislatures, a desire mirrored throughout Canada as shown by the election of Elizabeth May to the federal House of Commons, and when B.C.'ers and New Brunswickers sent Andrew Weaver and David Coon to their provincial legislatures.

Sounds simple enough – but a number of factors really need to come together to make this a reality. First and foremost, Greens need to give Sudburians compelling reasons to take up the torch of this historic opportunity. The good news is that there are lots of reasons for Sudburians to consider voting for the Green Party in the upcoming by-election. For those voters interested in change, a vote for the Green Party will certainly deliver.

A Focus on Mining and the Ring of Fire

Many in this community believe that the Green Party, perceived as a party of the environment, would be a poor fit for a City which relies heavily on the mining industry for its prosperity. I believe that a lot of the anxiety about this matter has stemmed from partisan machinations from the other political parties who try to portray the Greens as anti-development (or at least anti-resource development).

Of course, I don't see it that way – in fact, here in the Sudbury and Nickel Belt ridings, Greens have asked geologist and former INCO and Falconbridge employee Fred Twilley to carry our banner in 3 campaigns (in Nickel Belt provincially in 2006, federally in 2008 and in Sudbury federally in 2011). And recently, the man who was instrumental in inventing the concept of the “mining cluster”, Laurentian University's Dr. David Robinson, has announced that he'll be seeking the Sudbury nomination for the upcoming federal election. Dr. Robinson has been writing about mining and the economy for a decade, and is one of only a few individuals to have their own hyperlink at Stan Sudol's Republic of Mining of website.

And then there's me. I've been a strong supporter of developing Northern Ontario's Ring of Fire for quite some time – although my support has sometimes been translated by partisans as being in opposition to development. Northing could be further from the truth. Greens like me understand that development of our natural resources isn't going to magically come to a halt – and nor should it. What we ought to be doing, however, is making longer-term sustainability an intrinsic part of resource development – and industries located here in Northern Ontario which extract base metals and rare earth metals are prime for the sorts of innovations which would see the our mining sector become a leader in sustainable development and net-zero practices.

We’re in a very critical time for the Ring of Fire. Plans for development are moving forward, but they don’t appear to be based on a comprehensive analysis of baseline data. It’s unclear whether appropriate assessments are going to occur, or whether the provincial and federal governments are going to take seriously their requirements for nation-to-nation negotiations with the indigenous peoples who call this part of our province home.

This circumstance cries out for a Green voice to be on the frontlines of any discussion. Only a Green will prompt our governments to consider a complete range of impacts as part of a comprehensive assessment of the entirety of the $27 billion industrial enterprise. Climate change, impacts on threatened and endangered species, and water quality and quantity concerns must be at the heart of any physical assessment – yet none of the old-line parties are calling for anything but finding a way forward to get the resources out of the ground as quickly as possible. Increasingly, citizens are coming to the conclusion that the old ways of doing business simply aren’t working – we can’t leap before we look. We’ve got one chance to get it right in the Ring of Fire, and a Green voice in our legislature is needed to amplify that message to our elected decision-makers.

Saying No to Corporate Campaign Donations & Influence

Greens will be sure to hold the line on social and environmental issues related to development of the Ring of Fire – because Greens will be working with the interests of Ontario’s and Canada’s citizens first and foremost. We are not in the pockets of multinational corporations whose bottom lines are often more important that the health and well-being of people who live in communities affected by resource extraction.

The other old-line parties don’t understand this. Despite federal legislative changes made more than a decade ago, banning corporate and union donations to partisan political campaigns, our elected officials in their wisdom in this province have taken no such action. Money continues to speak louder than words at Queen’s Park, and New Democrats, Liberals and PC’s are all on the take.

Greens understand that in a democracy, decisions should be made by real people, without the outside influences of corporate power and money. Only people are allowed to vote in our elections – why is it then that those seeking office line their campaign pockets with donations from corporate entities? We all intuitively understand that accepting money from corporations and unions opens the door to access, abuse and corruption. Why, then, do the other parties continue to accept money from corporations?

Over the last week, we’ve had a front-row view in Sudbury regarding how backroom dealings, fuelled by promises of money and patronage, are corrupting our democracy. Greens understand that the very foundations of our democracy at all levels of government are being shaken by a level of corruption not seen before in this country. To that end, Greens will again be challenging all provincial by-election candidates to come clean with Sudburians about who is ponying up the money for their campaigns – we’ll be challenging candidates to just say no to corporate and union influence, and refuse campaign donations from anybody but a human. And should they continue to pocket corporate money, we’ll be reminding them that it’s a sorry excuse to say they’re simply “playing by the rules” when the question is really one of morality, and not just adhering to the letter of the law.

Prioritizing Local Businesses and Labour Rights

Yes, I’m certain that our Green candidate will be subject to accusations from New Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives that our stance on corporate and union donations makes us “anti-business” or “anti-labour”. It’ll be easy to hurl these accusations without a shred of evidence – it’s certainly what the old-line parties do at every opportunity they get. We’ll have to be prepared to show Sudburians that the Green agenda is one friendly to business and will help give rise to economic prosperity throughout the province – and especially here in Northern Ontario, where we understand the value of putting community ahead of enriching foreign multinationals. Sudburians understand the importance of good, well-paying local jobs, and the need to defend the rights of workers.

And we’ll need to tell those involved in the labour movement that they’ve nothing to fear from we Greens. Labour rights are human rights, and Greens understand that the bedrock of true prosperity has to include social equity and environmental sustainability. It’s unfortunate that the other parties seem to be doing what they can to move us backwards on one or both of these foundational issues, yet successive PC and Liberal governments have lowered the bar on both, creating the social and economic conditions to grow the gap between the rich and the rest of us, much to our detriment. New Democrats, too, seem to be confused about a way forward, especially with regards to environmental sustainability – a concept they like to talk about, but one which they clearly fail to grasp.

There are compelling reasons for Sudburians to give the Green Party a chance in the upcoming by-election. Sudburians know that Greens are coming from a place quite different than that of the other parties – that Greens are looking ahead towards the future to answer the hard questions of today, rather than back at the past as the old-line parties are doing. Greens understand that tomorrow isn’t going to be like today, and at a time of scarce resources, income inequality and climate change, more than ever we need to plan for tomorrow in a fiscally responsible way. Solutions which may have worked in the past are not necessarily the right ones for the future.

Saying No to the Status Quo

We’ll be making a strong case to Sudbury voters that it’s time to put away partisan differences, and vote for real change to our democratic discourse. Those who have in the past cast ballots for New Democrats, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives will be heartened to know that this time voting Green won’t be perceived as a “wasted vote”. Sending another New Democrat or Liberal to Queen’s Park isn’t going to change anything – it will only perpetuate the status quo. Electing a lone Green to Queen’s Park, however, will change the complexion of the political conversation around many issues which are important to Sudburians, including fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency, the Ring of Fire, climate change and creating a better, truly sustainable economy for all of Ontario.

We Greens have long committed to doing politics differently. It's time to show Sudbury what this really means. Watch us.

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Giving Sudbury Reasons to Vote Green in 2015

An abbreviated version of this speech (without hyperlinks) was given by me earlier tonight at the Sudbury & Nickel Belt Greens Holiday Gathering.

Thank you, Simon! It’s great to be here tonight at Sudbury and Nickel Belt Greens Holiday Gathering. Peddler’s Pub has always gone out of its way to make us feel at home – and what great service! This is a great venue for this time of year, a great place to come together in fellowship and in celebration! There’s a lot of anticipation filling the room – more so than I think I’ve ever felt at a Green Gathering. And I suspect it’s not because we’ve all finished our Christmas shopping and are just sitting back to relax waiting for the big day to arrive.

Our community has been thrust into the spotlight this week – the provincial spotlight and the national spotlight. When Sudbury MPP and my former City Councillor for Ward 1, Joe Cimino, resigned his seat in provincial parliament back in November, we were all surprised, and we knew that we’d be in store for an interesting ride. But – wow! This week has been a very interesting week in Sudbury. And an interesting week for the Green Party. So I’m glad that you’re all here this evening to share in the conversation, in the spirit of the seasons – Holiday and Election.

We are in for what is likely to be the strangest ride in Sudbury’s history, from an elections point of view. After just having come through two elections last year, the first provincial and the second municipal – where Sudburians spoke very loudly about the need for change – we’ve now got three elections on our schedule for next year – a provincial by-election to replace Joe Cimino – a federal by-election to replace Glenn Thibeault – and a federal general election in which we’ll need to do all that we can to hold Sudbury for the Green Party after winning the by-election!

To your ears, that may sound, I don’t know – odd? Unlikely? I know that as Greens we’re used to hearing from voters that they’d cast their ballots for our Party if they thought we could win – and often that has meant that we’ve been unable to convince them to give us a chance. It’s frustrating, but it’s a reality that Greens across Canada and around the world have come to accept.

But acceptance doesn’t equal complacency. Elizabeth May, for a while Canada’s only Green voice on Parliament Hill, has shown how the election of one Green can change the dynamics of political conversations inside the legislature – and outside as well. In British Columbia, Andrew Weaver has stood up to both the Liberal government of Christy Clark and the NDP opposition over matters of climate justice. And in New Brunswick, Green leader David Coon, elected just this past summer, is already driving the conversation on fracking.

Greens are showing that we are making a difference where ever we are elected. Having a Green in the legislature leads first to opposition parties paying attention to what we’re saying, followed by the media. And although communicating through the media has its flaws, I seriously don’t think anybody here this evening doubts that once your message is in front of the media, the conversation about it really heats up.

Just today, Elizabeth May announced that climate justice activist Lynne Quarmby – a Professor of Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University in B.C., will be seeking the Green Party’s nomination. You may not know Quarmby by name – but you’ve likely heard about her and her friends, family and fellow citizens who were recently arrested on Burnaby Mountain, opposing Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. When asked why she was running for the Green Party, Quarmby reportedly said, “I didn’t choose politics; politics chose me,” and “all of the other parties are pulling punches on climate change” and that the push for more fossil infrastructure in the age of climate change is a kind of “immoral behaviour” (see: "Kinder Morgan arestee Lynne Quarmby to run for Greens in federal election", the Vancouver Observer, December 17, 2014).

We Greens know and understand this, as do many of the good citizens in our community – including those who have said that they can’t support us because we can’t win. How many Andrew Weavers have to get elected to demonstrate that Greens can make a difference? How many Lynne Quarmbys are needed to instill in voters the confidence they need to cast a ballot for the Green Party?

Well, here in Sudbury we’re going to find out in 2015. Already, we’ve had Laurentian Professor of Economics Dr. David Robinson step forward to seek our Party’s federal nomination. Dr. Robinson – like me, and like you, I suspect – is concerned about the future. Not for himself – he insists that he’s past his prime, although I’m not so certain – he’s not concerned about his own future, but that of his children and grandchildren. He sees the issue of climate change staring us in the face, and he sees all of the old line political parties failing to act. Worse, he sees each of them, including the NDP, doing what they can to exacerbate the problems of climate change by encouraging the development of fossil energy over renewables. As an economist, Dr. Robinson understands the risks climate change presents to our well-being, and he knows that a starting point in getting serious about tackling this issue and creating the right economic environment for investment must be the imposition of a job - creating carbon tax!

Voters who are concerned about our fiscal, social and environmental well-being are turning away from the old-line parties. Many, unfortunately, are giving up all together, staying away from the ballot boxes in droves. Some, however, recognize that we Greens want to do politics differently – and that we are the only party willing to address some of the most important issues of our time, like climate change. And not just address it – but offer serious solutions which make fiscal sense. We Greens know that we just can’t keep throwing good money away on projects which have limited or questionable public good. That’s the way that NDP and Liberal governments have operated for too long. Yet here in Sudbury we see both parties scrambling to be the first to bring funding to town to build more roads like Maley Drive – roads we don’t need for growth which should be focused in areas where citizens already have an abundance of transportation choices. There’s been no cost benefit analysis undertaken – they just want our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to build something tangible – something that they can be seen to have supported – despite the long term costs, and questionable benefits.

Well, this brings me back to 2015. Here in Sudbury, we Greens are going to have the unique opportunity to make a case to voters that their votes won’t be wasted – that it’s finally time to vote their conscience and support the Green Party. We’re going to have our work cut out for us, though, but frankly there has never been a better time. With New Democrats and Liberals giving voters lots of reasons not to vote for them, the time is ours if we seize it. The time is right in Sudbury for the Green Party to make history in Ontario – voters can send our province’s first-ever Green MPP to Queens Park. Taking this action will change everything. It will allow Greens to hold Kathleen Wynne’s government accountable on issues like climate change, carbon pricing, protecting endangered species, and getting it right in the Ring of Fire. And it would mean that our Leader, Mike Schreiner, will finally be able to participate in the televised Leader’s debates in the next general election campaign.

The benefits of electing a Green MPP are pretty clear to me, and likely to you too. Heck, we’re in the choir. What’s going to be our chief challenge moving forward is making a case to Sudburians that this is the time to vote Green. As far as evidence-based arguments go, well, I think we’ve got this one wrapped up. But we all know that as humans we don’t always base our decisions on the best available evidence. The case we have to make to Sudburians will have to be made across a wide spectrum – one based on our shared values, hopes and aspirations for our community and for our province.

Some of those values – transparency and accountability – have certainly taken a hit in our community this week, with the announcement on Monday that a former Liberal candidate was told to ask for a job if he quietly stepped back from seeking his party’s nomination. And then we witnessed our NDP MP announce that he would be appointed to run for the Liberals – triggering a federal by-election. These behind-the-scenes machinations which affect all of our lives in this community – have gone on for too long.

Recently, the entire Liberal Cabinet came to town on the taxpayer’s dime – ostensibly to conduct their business in the field – but the day was topped off by an evening at the Caruso Club where diners had to pay $1,700 for chicken and pasta. I know that the Caruso serves up some excellent chicken and pasta, but I think the elites who forked out that kind of cash at Gerry Lougheed’s prompting were paying for something else – access to government. Access to a government that travelled north under the guise of doing business, but really to collect money from well-heeled and corporate sponsors.

The very fact that this Liberal government has failed to close the loophole which allows corporations and unions to influence our democracy speaks volumes about what their priorities are. Corporations aren’t people – they are not allowed to vote. Yet they are given opportunities to buy influence. We’ve seen how the Liberals have benefitted from corporate donations.

And yesterday’s Sudbury Star reports that the United Steelworkers are going to do what they can to elect a New Democrat. If USW is thinking about asking its members to go knocking on doors in support of the NDP, that’s one thing – I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that. But for too long we’ve seen unions pour their member’s dues into political parties, often without consultation. It’s a practice that has to stop – and we Greens are the only party talking about ending corporate and union donations to political candidates.

Let me say one last thing about the labour movement. Labour has nothing to fear in the Green Party. We Greens understand that labour rights are human rights. We have long expressed our solidarity with the labour movement. Our desires and aspirations have significant overlap with those of Labour. Many of us belong to unions and some of us have been active in the labour movement. Greens understand that climate justice and social justice go hand and hand, and that a strong Canada includes strong labour rights. Those who support the labour movement will find no reason not to cast their ballot for a Green.

(for more information the Green Party and Organized Labour, see Section 1.8 of Vision Green)

The fact is, we’ve got a very positive message to share with Sudbury. And that, unfortunately, might be to our detriment, as the focus of most election campaigns has been on negativity and partisan game-playing. Getting our message out in such a hostile media environment is going to be a challenge. Earning the media’s coverage has never been something our Party has excelled at – although here in Sudbury I think we do better than almost anywhere else in Canada, when we put our efforts into it. But relying on earned media only goes so far. The other parties win campaigns not because they have the policies – clearly, the don’t. They don’t win because they have the most internally consistent platforms. They win because they can find good people to do and say what their parties tell them to do and say in order to get elected. And they win because they can get their messages out through advertising.

If we Greens are to seize this opportunity to make a compelling case to citizens in our community – to bring Sudburians together and give them a reason to vote Green this time – to give them the confidence that their votes will not be wasted, because the Green Party really does have a very good chance of winning – if we are going to make this case to our friends, our families, and our co-workers, we’re going to have to do it together. You – every one of you in this room this evening – are going to have an important role to play in the success of our Party in 2015.

If you can help with the campaigns, that’s fantastic. We’re going to need people to make phone calls and knock on doors – and we’re going to make participating this way as fun as possible! With 3 elections coming up to contest – oh boy – we’d better put the emphasis on fun!

But campaigning isn’t for everybody, I understand that. Talking up the party, though, around the tap water jug at the office, at gatherings, and on social media – maybe there’s something you can do to help us out there.

And finally, of course no appeal for help from any political party can avoid that which we least like to talk about – and that which is so important to the success of local elections – money. Look, I’ll be blunt – I hate asking for money. I hate being asked for money. But your monetary donations are important – they are more important now than ever, with three elections on the horizon, and a real need to give the community compelling reasons to vote Green.

So, in the spirit of giving, if you can, please do – and if you can and do before the end of the year, you can get a tax receipt to apply to your taxes in a few months. We just ask that you write a cheque to the Sudbury Green Party Constituency Association, so that your money stays here and helps us elect Ontario’s first Green MPP.

We’re also going to pass around the hat tonight – not sure whose hat this is, but all of the money in it is going to go to the Sudbury CA – which means that you can give up to $25 in cash. If you’d like a receipt for your donation, please let the hat go by and see Pat Rogerson, the Sudbury CA’s Financial Agent, before the night is through.

(Here's just a little FYI to my readers: if you are eligible to vote in the Province of Ontario, and would like to give to the Sudbury CA in support of the upcoming by-election, please make out your cheques to "Sudbury Green Party of Ontario Constituency Association" and send them to the Sudbury Green Party CA, 107 Riverside Drive, Sudbury ON, P3E 1G7)

Greens, we really are on the verge of making history here in Sudbury. Even a really good show in the by-election will be enough to get tongues wagging in the same way that they were in Calgary Centre in 2012 when Chris Turner had his spectacular run. This by-election will allow us to build our support base, and get better organized for the federal election. It’ll also help voters in Sudbury get into the habit of voting Green. We’ll bring people and community organizations together so that they can proudly proclaim their support for the Green Party and fearlessly cast their ballots for our candidates.

2015 is going to be an exciting year for us. Thank you for coming out this evening, and thank you very much for your help with 2015.

(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 16, 2014

Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies will Help our Shift to Renewables

Climate negotiations have just wrapped up in Lima, Peru, with some successes being made towards the creation of a new international. The European Union has pledged to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030, and the United States and China, the world’s two largest emitters, recently announced an important bilateral agreement to reduce emissions.

In preparation for the new treaty, anticipated to be signed in Paris next year, all nations will publicly commit to strategies and targets to reduce emissions in early 2015. One of the goals of the Paris treaty will be to hold warming at 2 degrees Celsius – a point at which the best available science suggests we dare not pass for fear of triggering feedback loops and catastrophic warming. An international agreement to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius was perhaps the only success achieved at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009.

Some developed nations should be able to meet their emissions reduction commitments with little challenge, as they're already making the switch away from high-carbon fossil energy sources. Renewable energy has been the go-to choice for Denmark and Germany, and renewables are positioned to make headway in India and China. Today, renewable energy is the world's fastest growing industrial sector.

In Canada, however, it's long been our national policy to subsidise fossil fuel production, in preference to renewable energy. Although some of the richest multinational corporations in the world are profiting from extracting our fossil resources, our federal and provincial governments continue to subsidize them with taxpayer's money to the tune of about $34 billion per year, according to the International Monetary Fund (see: "IMF Pegs Canada's Fossil Fuel Subsidies at $34 Billion", the Tyee, May 15, 2014). At the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009, Canada promised to end fossil fuel subsidies, but we’ve taken no action to fulfill our international commitment.

Massive subsidies to fossil fuels distort market conditions in Canada for investment in renewable energy. Despite these governmental interventions in the marketplace, the renewable energy sector in Canada has put down firm roots. According to a recent report from Clean Energy Canada, about $25 billion has been invested in renewables over the past 5 years, driving employment in the renewable sector up by 37%. Now, more people are employed in the renewable energy sector than in the Alberta tar sands (see: "Green energy sector jobs surpass total oil sands employment", the Globe and Mail, December 2, 2014). All of this has been accomplished with only minor subsidies – the biggest through the government of Ontario's feed-in-tariff program, which has allowed our province to become a job-creating green energy leader.

Fossil fueled industries continues to pollute our atmosphere with climate changing greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, without any real consequences to corporate profits. Instead, the real costs of a changing climate, in terms of environmental, health and adaptation related impacts, are borne by taxpayers. A recent report by the United Nations estimates that the costs of adapting to a world warmer by 2 degrees Celsius could end up costing between $250 and $500 billion annually (see: "Adapting to a warmer climate could cost almost three times as much as thought, UN report says", The Guardian, December 5, 2014). And we're currently on target to experience between 4 and 6 degrees of warming by the end of the Century.

Every dollar invested in new fossil infrastructure will lock us into a high-carbon future that finds Canada swimming against the current of history. To get serious about reducing our emissions, Canada has some options - but all will require reversing our national policy of promoting fossil energy over renewables. A good start would be putting a price on carbon, and helping to end market distortions by shifting the costs of pollution away from taxpayers and onto polluters. A price on carbon will help create the well-paying clean technology jobs needed to transform Canada into a renewable energy superpower.

(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)

Originally published as "Subsidies delaying shift to renewables", the Sudbury Star, Saturday, December 13, 2014 (print and online), without hyperlinks.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ontario Liberals “Blowing Smoke” on Climate Change

With the re-election of Premier Kathleen Wynne, and a new majority for the Ontario Liberal Party, I actually had a smidgen of hope that Ontario might finally start to get serious about climate change. The extra attention afforded to this important issue by the renamed Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, under the direction of the very capable Minister Glen Murray, gave me some optimism that Ontario might finally start to move again in the direction of taking the climate crisis seriously. Mandate letters issued to various provincial ministers – made public by Wynne’s government for the first time ever – were riddled with references to climate change. There was cause for optimism.

But, when faced with the first serious test of credibility – when asked to “walk the talk” - it was Premier Kathleen Wynne herself who hastily retreated on action related to climate change.

After meeting with Quebec’s Premier Phillipe Couillard, the two Liberal Premiers of Canada’s largest provinces issued a statement setting out conditions for the development of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline – a $12 billion pipeline which will flow diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to a new port facility in Quebec, with some continuing on to New Brunswick. One of the conditions Wynne and Couillard required of TransCanada assess whether developing the pipeline would raise greenhouse gas emissions – something that the pipeline regulator, the National Energy Board, insists is beyond the purview of its mandate (see: “Premiers Wynne and Couillard set seven criteria for Energy East”, the Globe and Mail, November 21, 2014).

Initially, environmentalists and those concerned about climate change cheered. Finally, it looked like Canada’s two largest provinces were going to back a position outlined by U.S. President Barack Obama regarding the Keystone XL pipeline – that upstream impacts needed to be considered as part of any pipeline development proposal. And realistically, that position only makes sense.

Pipelines Only Needed for Expanding the Tar Sands

The only reason why there is a rush on now to develop Energy East, Keystone, Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain is to facilitate the planned expansion of the Alberta tar sands. These pipelines aren’t needed if production were to remain relatively stable over time, but the plan is to see a more than doubling of production - from about 2 million barrels per day in 2014 to 5.2 million barrels per day by 2030 (see: “Oilsands: Facts and Statistics”, Alberta Energy).

Of course, the plan to more than double production just isn’t going to work out unless an economical way of moving the bitumen to markets is found. Some pundits believe that the bitumen will flow to market with or without any new pipeline capacity, utilizing rail or trucks if it has to. Frankly, that sort of assessment is just absurd, as it completely defies economic believability. The profit margins for bitumen, in comparison to other forms of oil, are quite narrow, due to significantly higher production costs. With Canada’s rail system already experiencing strain just trying to keep up with production here and from the U.S. Baaken, it’s just inconceivable that Alberta bitumen will flow without one or more of these pipelines.

And that’s not just my opinion. It’s one shared by Canada’s former Natural Resources Minister (and current Finance Minister) Joe Oliver. It was routine to hear Oliver talk about the need for the Keystone XL pipeline on his junkets to the United States, where he spoke to congressional leaders and the business community. Oliver insisted that while rail could take up some of the transportation of increased capacity, pipelines were absolutely essential if tar sands production were to increase (see: “Joe Oliver on Keystone: Pipeline Expansion Still Needed Despite Price Gap Narrowing, Oliver Says”, the Huffington Post, March 18, 2013).

In light of this reality, it becomes evidently clear that the development of new pipeline capacity is essential to realize the planned for increase in output of the tar sands. You just can’t expand the tar sands without new pipelines, period.

And if you expand the tar sands, guess what happens to greenhouse gas emissions?

That’s been the point of all serious commentators on this topic – that it is an effort of willful ignorance to pretend that the development of a new pipeline won’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. So, when Wynne and Couillard made it a condition for TransCanada to demonstrate how they’d get around this bind with regards to Energy East, really they were establishing a condition which would have been almost impossible for TransCanada to fulfill. Nevertheless, demonstrating how the new pipeline wouldn’t increase emissions would have to be a part of the assessment to obtain a social license for development from Ontario and Quebec.

Enter Jim Prentice

Almost immediately, new Alberta Premier Jim Prentice flew into the picture, conducting whirlwind meetings with Couillard and Wynne – changing their minds on their stated position (or maybe just pointing out where the logical conclusion of holding that position would take them – to saying “no” to the pipeline – although how Wynne and Couillard couldn’t have known this in advance of listing their 7 conditions just baffles me – either Wynne was trying to fool Ontarians about climate action, or she just didn’t understand the implications of her own position).

Quickly, Kathleen Wynne pulled a complete u-turn on the climate condition for Energy East (see: “Wynne drops main climate change requirement in considering Energy East pipeline”, the Globe and Mail, December 3, 2014). Rather than assessing greenhouse gas emissions from the project, now all that Ontario wanted to do was to have TransCanada consider the tiny amount of emissions associated with the construction and laying of the pipe itself. And that’s like deciding to assess what traffic impacts of a new 8-lane elevated super-highway will have on the local roads system by only looking at the girders and columns, on-ramps and off-ramps – and pretending that there won’t be any vehicles which ever use it.

Needless to say, environmentalists and others concerned about climate change were appalled by this complete and utter flip-flop from Kathleen Wynne. Worse yet, Wynne insisted that this reversal wasn’t a change in Ontario’s position, despite it so clearly being the case (why did Wynne think that Prentice jumped on the plane the next week to have an emergency meeting with her? Was it because Prentice didn’t think she was talking about upstream impacts? Seriously?).

This flip-flop has been a super-fail for Ontario – and by extension, for all of Canada. Rather than using this opportunity to demonstrate real leadership on climate change, Wynne and the Liberals decided to step back into the comfort of “business as usual” – while simultaneously trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public by pretending that they’ve been taking the issue seriously. It’s shocking and appalling, and Ontarians are right to be upset about yet another Liberal sell-out.

Ontario Liberals - No Coherent Plan for Climate Action

Look, I still have some hope that Ontario’s Liberal government might take some positive actions for our global climate. I have to acknowledge that under former Premier Dalton McGuinty, Ontario has demonstrated that it was willing to be a Canadian leader, if a modest one, on climate change. Ontario shut down all of its coal-fired generating stations (although it took about twice as long to do so as originally forecast), and developed the Green Energy and Economy Act, which has kick-started renewable energy projects here, making our province a North American leader (although the Act itself could have been implemented so much better, by preferencing local energy co-operatives over large scale multinational developers who haven’t taken the time to obtain their own social licenses from Ontarians pre-development in far too many cases).

But steps forward by the Ontario Liberals have been compounded by numerous steps backward. This week, Ontarians learned from our Auditor-General that the smart meter installation program went over budget by a considerable amount – costing Ontarians almost $2 billion for a system which still isn’t working at 100% capacity as about one sixth of all installed meters aren’t transmitting data. Worse yet, due to the Liberals energy pricing policies around time of use billing, Ontarians haven’t realized any energy savings from having a smart meter program in place. For the climate, that means that the expensive installation of smart meters hasn’t done anything to reduce emissions from our electrical generating capacity (and although Ontario’s electricity system is one of the greenest in North America, about one quarter of electrical production is from fossil fuels, primarily natural gas).

But the Liberals seem content to brush the Auditor-General’s criticism off as “blowing smoke” - unbelievably complaining that her numbers are wrong, and that she doesn’t understand how electricity systems work (despite the A-G having worked for 10 years at Manitoba Hydro before taking her current position - see: “Bob Chiarelli accused of ‘sexist’ shots at Bonnie Lysyk after auditor’s report”, the Toronto Star, December 10, 2014)). This new sort of arrogance is surprising, and if this is what we can expect of Kathleen Wynne’s government on a go-forward basis, it doesn’t speak well of the Liberals ability to listen to voices which may make them uncomfortable – including the voices of the people who put them into power in the first place.

Betting on Discredited Cap & Trade

Back in 2003, Dalton McGuinty was talking about putting a price on carbon through a Cap & Trade scheme. Ontario eventually joined the Western Climate Initiative, along with California, Oregon and Washington State, but there’s never been much of an effort to actually cap carbon emissions. Interestingly, it may be that’s about to change now, with Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray making some noises about carbon pricing.

But with the disaster of the European emissions trading scheme and the complete collapse of the Chicago market, cap & trade has become a pretty discredited way of pricing carbon. Just when economists and industry leaders are calling for the imposition of a carbon tax, it looks like Ontario is about to embark on setting up an extremely costly trading scheme which will lead to questionable outcomes in terms of reducing emissions. Frankly, this could be another complete disaster for Ontarians – and for the climate. A straight tax on carbon is a proven winner in terms of reducing emissions and creating cleantech jobs, yet for some reason the Liberals are reluctant to go there.

Ontario Progressive Conservative - No Credibility on Climate, Energy, Economy

What Wynne’s Liberals need now at Queen’s Park is someone who is going to both hold them accountable for their actions and decisions, and push them forward on climate change and renewable energy. But at the moment, there isn’t anyone who appears positioned to do so. The Official Opposition, led by the leaderless Progressive Conservatives, have demonstrated time and again that they’d pull the plug on Ontario’s participation in the fastest growing industrial sector in the world – the renewable energy sector. Why Conservatives want to plunge Ontario back into the dark ages and stifle innovation, prosperity and job creation is lost on me (well, not entirely – fact is, the Liberals bungling of the Green Energy Act has led to significant push-back of solar and wind power projects in particular – push back that the Conservatives are keen to capitalize on for grabbing votes in rural areas, despite such push back going against the long-term economic interests of the Province. But Conservative parties seem to be far more interested in obtaining power and enriching their elite backers than in promoting general economic health for all citizens).

New Democrats - Acting Against the Interests of the Climate, Public

So that leaves Andrea Horwarth’s NDP as the only other party at Queen’s Park that might be able to hold Wynne to account right now. However, the NDP in Ontario, similar to Tom Mulcair’s federal New Democratic Party, has become the anti-climate party – or more precisely, they’ve never ever bought into taking climate change seriously in the first place, and despite talking the talk, they’ve really started to show their true feelings about it.

Horwarth’s NDP has consistently campaigned on making it easier to waste fossil fuel energy, through capping its price at the gas pump, and by having taxpayers subsidize the generation of electricity for business and residential users. Out of a misguided notion of what it means to champion “hard working Ontarians”, the NDP seems to believe that creating more carbon pollution will somehow boost the economy – rather than risking its collapse. Federally, Tom Mulcair has publicly supported the expansion of the tar sands enterprise by embracing the Energy East pipeline. In British Columbia, New Democrats who campaigned against putting a price on carbon have just recently voted to create a taxpayer subsidized liquefied natural gas industry, from which carbon and methane pollution have yet to be assessed. In Manitoba and Nova Scotia, recent and current NDP governments have done little to nothing to take meaningful action on climate change – certainly, no NDP government has ever put a price on carbon, despite having the opportunity to walk the talk.

An Opportunity for a Real Green Champion at Queen's Park

What Ontario needs right now is a real champion of climate change at Queen’s Park, not the on-again/off-again but-always-bungled “leadership” from the Liberals. A Green voice at Queen’s Park would go a long way in holding Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government accountable on climate change and renewable energy. Even a lone Green voice – as Elizabeth May has shown Canadians on the federal scene – can drive the political conversation both inside and outside the legislature.

With an unexpected by-election coming up in Sudbury in 2015, there will be an opportunity for Sudburians to make history and send a Green to Queen’s Park and change the tenor of the conversation around climate change and renewable energy (amongst other issues). Sending another New Democrat or Liberal back to Toronto isn’t going to lead to anything more than business as usual – but sending a Green will change everything.

In 2015, Sudbury will have the unique opportunity to make provincial history – and make national headlines – by electing Ontario’s first Green Member of Provincial Parliament. It is certainly my hope that Sudburians see the need to send a Green to Toronto for the benefit of our collective prosperity; issues like climate change, which the old-line parties either don’t get or refuse to wrap their heads around.

Greens across Canada know that having a Green elected to the largest provincial legislature will go far in helping shape the conversation and debate around a number issues the Green Party champions, including climate change. Anyone familiar with the Rob Ford saga knows very well that the concentration of media in Toronto presents a unique opportunity for an elected Green MPP to play a part in what is fast becoming a national conversation about the need for taking real action on climate change. With Greens now in the federal legislature, and in provincial parliaments in B.C. and New Brunswick, it’s clear that Greens can win in a first-past-the-post electoral environment – and can add a degree of post-partisan decorum to our rapidly degenerating democratic institutions.

We’ve got the chance here in Sudbury – let’s seize it.

(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)