Thursday, February 19, 2015

Here's How Liberal Party's Lougheed & Sorbara Will be Vindicated over Alleged Elections Act Contraventions

What can we learn from the Ontario Chief Electoral Officer’s Report, made public earlier today, regarding the alleged contraventions made to the Elections Act by local Liberal Gerry Lougheed and the Premier’s Chief of Staff, Pat Sorbara? Certainly, there are the obvious conclusions – that there was a level of interference in the Sudbury by-election which may have contravened the Elections Act and the Election Finances Act. But I’m not going to focus on those matters, as I’m sure that others will be talking about those contraventions over the next few weeks and months.

Instead, I’d like to draw your attention to Page 10 of the Report, in which the Chief Electoral Officer lays out his rationale for concluding that there were apparent contraventions. On Page 10, the Chief Electoral Officer makes references to what a “candidate” is for the purpose of an election. I’ll reproduce that section of the Report here in its entirety.

The meaning of “Candidate”

This complaint relates to conduct in relation to candidates. Section 1 of the Election Act defines a candidate as follows:

“candidate at an election” and “candidate” mean a person elected to serve in the Assembly and a person who is nominated as a candidate at an election or is declared by himself or herself or by others to be a candidate on or after the date of the issue of the writ or after the dissolution or vacancy in consequence of which the writ has been issued.

“election” means an election of a member or members to serve in the Assembly (Emphasis added) A person cannot be properly characterized as a “candidate at an election” prior to the issuance of a writ for election. In the case of an individual who makes a declaration subsequent to a dissolution or vacancy, the definition of “candidate” means the scenario in which a writ “has” already been issued.

The conduct that is prohibited by s. 96.1(e) can take place before the issuance of a writ. For example, a person can contravene s. 96.1(e) by inducing an individual – before an election is even called -- to refrain from being a candidate before a writ is issued. This can be determined by looking at the nature and circumstances of the communications and understandings between the individuals.

In short, the CEO indicates that while Andrew Olivier did not meet the definition of a “candidate”, a contravention to the Act still might have occurred if he was bribed to step aside before the writ was issued.

And that, I fear, is where the Chief Electoral Officer’s rationale for an apparent contravention having occurred breaks down. If Olivier wasn’t a candidate – and could not have become a candidate in any circumstances – where is the apparent contravention?

Was Olivier a Candidate?

Andrew Olivier was never a candidate. While he had announced his intention to seek the Liberal Party’s nomination after the Sudbury riding was declared vacant, the Liberal Party never opened its nomination process. In fact, there was no nomination to be had. Instead of a nomination process, the Premier eventually appointed a candidate. So not only was Olivier not an election candidate at the time of the alleged contravention having occurred, he was not a nomination contestant either – because there was no nomination to be had.

A declaration of interest in seeking the Liberal Party’s nomination does not make one a nomination contestant. The Liberal Party of Ontario, like all mature political parties in Canada, has a process to follow to become a nomination contest. That process includes an up-front screening of a potential candidate based on the submission of an application. Only after a nomination contestant has been “greenlighted” by the Party can they be considered a nomination contestant.

And even had this situation occurred, it would not have made Olivier a “candidate” as per the legislation – at least not until the writ was dropped.

If You Can't be the Candidate, You Can't Be Bribed to Not Be the Candidate

Although as per the CEO’s interpretation of Section 96.1(e), that a contravention can occur pre-writ, if an individual receives an inducement to not be a candidate, the fact of the matter here is that Olivier, despite his public statement that he was seeking the nomination, there was never a nomination in play which he could have sought.

Remember: both Gerry Lougheed and Pat Sorbara were equivocal about this: the Premier could use her authority to appoint a candidate, so there would be no nomination contest (Lougheed said that it was the Premier's preference to have a contest - one apparently ending with an acclamation for Glenn Thibeault - Sorbara was clearer: that a decision about an appointment was going to have to be made by the Premier). Therefore, knowing that there was no nomination contest on the table or underway at the time of their conversations with Olivier, they were unable to offer Olivier an inducement to stop seeking the candidacy, because there was no candidacy to be sought at that time. Both would have preferred that Olivier and Matichuk stepped back from seeking the nomination, and that a rigged "contest" starring just one contestant could have been held (with Olivier playing game-show host MC leading the call for Glenn's "nomination"). But with Glenn in the game now, they knew he could not face an actual contested nomination (likely because there was no way he was going to be able to sell more memberships than Olivier - but I'm speculating here). Since a contested nomination wasn't in the cards, from their perspective, they couldn't have made an offer to Olivier to induce him to stop seeking the nomination - they knew it wasn't going to happen.

I think that the Chief Electoral Officer may have erred in judgement here. Now before everybody goes ballistic on me for this, let me be clear: I believe that what Olivier was offered by Lougheed and Sorbara was tantamount to a bribe – but it was a bribe to keep quiet, not a bribe to stop him from seeking office. The decision had been made by the Premier prior to these conversations that neither Olivier or Marianne Matichuk were going to be able to become the Ontario Liberal Party’s candidate for the Sudbury riding, because the Premier was going to appoint someone else.

I’m not sure where that leaves the criminal proceedings, but as far as the Elections Act goes, I just can’t see how offering a job to someone who can’t be a candidate is in any way, shape or form an inducement to that individual to refrain from seeking the candidacy.

Again, this isn’t to justify the actions of Lougheed and Sorbara – nor is to cast aspersion on Andrew Olivier. Olivier didn’t file the complaints with Elections Ontario or with the police. He hasn’t done anything wrong here. If Lougheed and Sorbara are eventually vindicated for the reasons I’ve identified or for other reasons, that can in no way taint Olivier – unless additional information comes to light that we don’t know about right now. And that doesn’t seem likely.

All that I’m suggesting is that I see some wiggle room here for the implicated Liberals. I'm not a lawyer - but if I can see it, I suspect it will be seen by Lougheed’s and Sorbara’s legal counsel. They'll make a case that you can’t bribe someone to refrain from seeking a position which they could never have attained.

You can't be bribed to not be the candidate if you never could have been the candidate in the first place.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Freeze Development Around Ramsey Lake Until Priority Ramsey Lake Watershed Study is Completed

The following is an open letter to the City of Greater Sudbury’s Finance and Administration Committee – a Council committee of the whole – regarding the 2015 capital budget for infrastructure.


Thank you for the opportunity to provide input into the City of Greater Sudbury’s consideration of its’ proposed capital budget for infrastructure. I understand that the budget being considered by the Committee does not include a specific line item for priority watershed studies.

Priority watershed and subwatershed studies have been identified as a requirement for the City since at least 2005, when the City’s first Official Plan for the amalgamated City referenced their need. Despite being a requirement of the City’s Plan, over the past decade, not one study has been prepared by the City.

In 2013, the City of Greater Sudbury recommitted itself to preparing a subwatershed study for Ramsey Lake – a lake which is both our recreational jewel in the urban core of our community, and a drinking water source for tens of thousands of Sudburians (see: “Greater Sudbury City Council unanimously passes motion in support of watershed studies”, Naomi Grant, Grassroots Sudbury Media Co-op, May 16, 2013).

The Ramsey Lake watershed study would assess risks from the cumulative impacts of development. Right now, development is proceeding in the watershed without the benefit of a full range of information – information which we would know if the watershed study had been completed.

Now, the CBC is reporting that the City hasn’t moved forward with the watershed study at all, as other priorities appear to have got in the way (see: “Ramsey Lake protection study work slows to a trickle”, CBC, February 9, 2015). If this is true, it’s an unacceptable circumstance, as the long-term health of our drinking water source should be of paramount importance to the corporation of the City of Greater Sudbury.

In the past, I’ve written extensively on the need for a Ramsey Lake watershed study to assist decision-makers in guiding new development proposals (see: “Lack of Attention to Lake Water Quality Contributing to Systemic Public Concerns in Greater Sudbury”, the Sudbury Media Co-Op, July 27, 2014; “Knee-Jerk Reaction on Parking Lot Approval Another Missed Opportunity to Prioritize Livability in Greater Sudbury”, August 12, 2014; and, “May: Planning needed to protect water”, the Sudbury Star, August 16, 2014). I continue to maintain that the City’s long-term economic interests would be best served by completing the Ramsey Lake Watershed Study.

Until the Ramsey Lake Watershed Study has been completed, I urge Council to consider freezing new development within the watershed. Under Section 38 of the Planning Act, Council has the authority to enact an interim control by-law which would prohibit new development proposals going forward until such a time that an appropriate study to guide development has been completed – in this case, the Ramsey Lake watershed study. Further, Council should set aside funding for the completion of this priority study in the 2015 budget.

I sincerely hope that the Finance and Administration Committee take these requests seriously. For too long, the City has been dithered over the Ramsey Lake watershed study – a study called for in our Official Plan. Development has continued to proceed in the watershed, and the consequences of those decisions are largely unknown. In the future, we taxpayers could be paying for decisions made without the benefit of the best available information.

Please enact an Interim Control By-law for the Ramsey Lake watershed, and fund the Ramsey Lake Watershed study.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Alternative Transportation in Greater Sudbury - Past Time for Real Action

The following is an open letter to the City of Greater Sudbury’s Finance and Administration Committee – a Council committee of the whole – regarding the 2015 capital budget for infrastructure.


Thank you for the opportunity to provide input into the City of Greater Sudbury’s consideration of its’ proposed capital budget for infrastructure. I understand that there has been a public consultation process which preceded the consideration of the capital budget. Through this public consultation process, Council heard from several community groups regarding the need for dedicated funding for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. I understand that despite these requests, the capital budget which is now being considered by Council fails to incorporate any dedicated funding for alternative transportation infrastructure.

This situation has become intolerable.

Greater Sudbury is being left behind in terms of our economic competitiveness, thanks to decisions made by our elected officials which continue to prioritize the needs of automobiles over the needs of people. Alternative transportation systems, such as cycling routes, pedestrian infrastructure and transit, have long had the appearance of being considered as an “after thought”. The prioritization of people over cars has led to a built-form environment which is affecting our City’s competitiveness in the Ontario, and indeed the global, marketplace.

It has long been known that cities which thrive are those which prioritize people over motorized vehicles. Starting with the works of Richard Florida back at the beginning of this century, the notion of a creative class of knowledge-based urbanites leading the way in job creation and innovation has taken hold in many parts of the province. This creative class is highly mobile, and therefore can be quite selective regarding the locations in which they consider for employment. For the creative class, amenities such as livability are priorities over shaving a few minutes of time off of a motorized commute.

The City of Greater Sudbury is anticipating only modest growth over the next 20 years. The City’s official plan update indicates that only about 10,500 people will be added to our community under a realistic growth scenario over the next 20 years – and even this projection may be ambitious should the global economy find itself in trouble. This trend, coupled with an aging population, means that our City is going to have be that much more careful with how we use our limited financial resources to make the City a better place for all of us to live. Growth can’t be relied on to drive the City’s economic engine. As a result, we can’t afford not to be strategic with spending – we need to spend money wisely.

Other communities in the North, such as Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay, are investing in livability in a way that puts the City of Greater Sudbury to shame. Upgrades to cycling infrastructure, including on-street lanes which connect to transportation nodes, have routinely been made in other northern cities and towns. Walking as a legitimate and healthy transportation choice has been facilitated by investing in infrastructure which provide pedestrians with prioritized access. Yet, in Greater Sudbury, even the smallest connections in alternative transportation systems seem to take years to come to fruition, and then they are often off-set by significant decisions made elsewhere.

We can’t continue to miss opportunities to make our City more livable. We missed a significant opportunity when Paris Street was being upgraded and resurfaced. We missed another opportunity with the Notre Dame / Lasalle intersection. We missed yet another one with the upgrades being made to MR 80 and Main Street through Val Caron. All of this costly infrastructure projects proceeded without due consideration to cycling or walking as a viable means of transport.

Next week, Planning Committee will be considering a motion to partner with the Canadian Urban Institute to develop an age-friendly community planning strategy, which will in turn support healthy and active lifestyles for older adults and all citizens. The basis for healthy and active lifestyles starts with ensuring that opportunities exist for cycling and walking – not just as recreational activities, but as viable means of transportation.

As reported by the CBC last year, Greater Sudbury is now Canada’s second-most obese City (see: “Sudbury second-most obese city in Canada: Stats Can”, CBC, October 20, 2014). Our community continues to struggle with health-related issues for many reasons – but clearly one has to do with the urban design which we have chosen over the past several decades which has favoured car-dependent suburbanization and development in exurban areas over more intense transit-supportive forms of development. Clearly, this has to change. And it has to change now. We can’t afford to lose yet another year before we get serious with the recommendations made to Council through the Sustainable Mobility Plan for the City of Greater Sudbury back in 2010.

The City has insisted that it can’t take action until the Transportation Master Plan has been updated and accepted by Council as part of the City’s 5-year review of the Official Plan. The Transportation Study – which has already been used to justify the widening of Second Avenue for vehicular traffic – is three years overdue and counting. Both the Sustainable Mobility Advisory Panel and the City’s Bicycling Technical Master Plan for the City of Greater Sudbury, prepared by the Bicycle Advisory Panel (since disbanded) have made reports which were previously accepted by Council – both of these reports could and should form the basis of providing additional alternative transportation infrastructure in our community.

Recently, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities held its annual Sustainable Communities conference in London, Ontario. On the agenda were numerous items dealing with creating robust and healthy alternative transportation systems. The City of Greater Sudbury recently voted to invite FCM to hold its 2017 Board of Directors meeting in our community. I fear that our City’s lack of attention to fostering livability through its negligence in developing alternative transportation systems may be on display on a national stage should the FCM come to town – unless significant action is taken by Council on the meantime.

Community groups such as the Coalition for a Livable Sudbury and the Sudbury Cyclists Union have asked that $800,000 of the roads budget – a small fraction of the overall budget – be set aside for the development of new cycling infrastructure. This request is reasonable and ought to be a priority of the Finance and Administration Committee. The allocation of funds for new infrastructure will represent a decent starting point for the City to finally begin moving forward with developing the alternative transportation systems we need to have in place to be competitive in the 21st Century.

Council should follow up this decision by requiring staff to develop a “Complete Streets” policy, in consultation with the public. And if staff are concerned about the costs of developing such a strategy, I hope that Council will look to anticipated budget expenditures for new roads and for expanding existing roads – many of which may not be necessary given the low levels of growth anticipated in our City over the next 20 years. At the very least, projects such as the Second Avenue road expansion, the $3.5 million Barrydowne road widening and the Maley Drive extension could be put on hold while the City prepares a cost/benefit analysis to determine their utility.

At this time in the City’s history, spending money on more roads isn’t what we need. We need to carefully consider how best to invest our limited resources – and focus on prioritizing people over cars. The City’s future economic health depends on us starting to make decisions of this nature. Other northern cities are well ahead of us in this department – Greater Sudbury needs to start playing catch-up.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sustainability, Not Growth, Increasingly the Focus of Development

The idea that economic growth is good is one which has been embedded in our way of thinking now for several generations. In the 20th Century, both capitalist and communist societies pursued growth as a means of creating prosperity. In the first part of the 21st Century, however, the growth paradigm has found itself challenged by the more environmentally and socially responsible concept of sustainable development.

The sustainable development concept only entered the public consciousness in a big way after the publication of “Our Common Future” in 1987. Also known as “the Brundtland Report” after the Chair of the United Nation’s World Commission for Environment and Development, Gro Harlem Brundtland, the report firmly established the environmental agenda as an important global political and economic consideration for decision-makers.

The Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This short definition revolutionized the lens through which economic development in the 21st Century is being assessed. It’s set in motion many of today’s growing list of conflicts between industry and government on the one hand, and the environmental and social justice movements on the other.

Conflicts have arisen because the emergent concept of sustainable development is on a collision course with the reigning economic growth paradigm. However, increasingly economists and political decision makers are coming to realize that infinite growth can’t be sustained on a planet of finite resources.

The pursuit of growth, while having created prosperity for some, has left many others behind, and today we are burdened by a growing wealth gap between the rich and the rest of us. It’s also led to perverse environmental outcomes, where businesses and industry have been allowed to pollute or soil, water and atmosphere with little or no cost. Instead, taxpayers are left to pick up the tab for pollution.

Yet, economic growth remains a popular paradigm. Let’s face it – we are all used to hearing how we must grow the economy if we are to prosper. Our media have continually portrayed stories about growth as positive events, while slow growth or no growth in our economy is something to be feared.

Closer to home, Greater Sudbury’s Mayor, Brian Bigger, has insisted that our City must grow in order to meet our challenges (see: "Greater Sudbury needs to grow its economy", Brian Bigger, the Sudbury Star, January 20, 2015). Bigger’s Vision 2025 development strategy appears to be one which requires growth to succeed. But what if growth in our community happens only to a small degree – or not at all?

While Greater Sudbury is projected to grow over the next 20 years, anticipated growth will be very modest – as little as 10,500 additional persons, according to the City’s own figures.

But even this growth could end up costing the City more money in the long run to service than we might first think. With household sizes across the province shrinking due to an aging population, our community continues to build itself outwards. Studies have shown that for every tax dollar collected from new residential development, providing services to new residents ends up costing more – especially where urban sprawl is preferred over intensification. The notion that growth pays for itself is a myth.

We are slowly coming to realize that any conversation about development and growth has to have at its heart the notion of sustainability, rather than growth for growth’s sake. As we move forward into the 21st Century, we will continue to see a shift away from last century’s growth-centred paradigm towards one of sustainability. Our leaders at the federal, provincial and municipal levels of governance ought to take note.

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Originally published as "Sustainability must be focus of development", the Sudbury Star, Saturday, February 7, 2015 (print and online), without hyperlinks.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sudbury By-Election Shows the NDP in Eclipse

Wow. What the heck just happened here? Apparently – the unthinkable. Watching the #Sudbury hashtag on Twitter last night, which was trending nationally after the polls closed at 9 PM Eastern Time – our city took a verbal beating from the twitterati for having the – I don’t know what, so let’s go with “questionable judgement” – to send Liberal Glenn Thibeault to Queen’s Park after all of the nonsense – shenanigans – anti-democratic backroom dealing – pending criminal charges? – after all of that was exposed to the public eye over the past 4 weeks of the Sudbury by-election.

I’m not going to re-cap the ins and outs of the scandals which continued to erupt here in Sudbury even as the polls were closing last night. Suffice it for me to say that the Liberal Party is going to have a lot of explaining to do over the next little while to justify some of their actions – for some Liberals, possibly that explaining will occur in front of a judge. I don’t care how much of a partisan Liberal you are (and certainly, there are likely fewer of those in Sudbury today, even after last night’s victory (and not just because all of those imported election helpers are being bussed back to Toronto and Ottawa today), you’ve got to admit that after what went on here, the election was the NDP’s to lose.

By-Election Was NDP's to Lose

Let me be clear here: the NDP wanted to win this by-election. They threw everything that they had into it. They brought in MPP’s, MP’s – NDP leader Andrea Horwath practically lived in Sudbury these past 4 weeks. They brought in federal party leader Tom Mulcair to offer his pointed observations of defector Glenn Thibeault (the famous “he’s beneath contempt” remarks). The even trotted out an endorsement from former leader and now near-NDP deity Ed Broadbent. And by putting everything that the NDP had into this election – from both the provincial and federal levels – the NDP are going to have to wear this loss as millstone around its collective neck.

By all rights, the Liberals, even with a great candidate like Thibeault, should not have ever been in contention here. Throughout the campaign, Thibeault found himself on the defensive – to say the least. Actually, the anger and ire that was palpable on the ground here in Sudbury directed at Thibeault and the Liberal Party was so pungent you could almost taste it in the frozen air as you walked down the street.

Yet, for all of that, the NDP, which took the Sudbury riding in the 2014 general election, didn’t get the votes. What happened?

Factors at Play Against NDP Success?

There are likely a number of factors which I won’t explore in any great detail here, besides to list them: the nomination of a relatively unknown candidate who did not live in the riding or the City; an early election call which caught the Party flat-footed (they didn’t nominate their candidate until 5 days into writ period); a weak performance of their candidate on the issues and NDP policy; the negative tone coming from the NDP campaign and its allies (United Steelworkers, OPSEU); and, the reliance on the electorate’s anger over Thibeault’s floor crossing as a motivating factor.

Some other factors might have worked against the NDP. The presence of a strong independent candidate, former Liberal turned whistle-blower Andrew Olivier, may have initially trumped some of the NDP’s momentum at the outset of the election, but frankly Olivier peaked early, and polls in the final week of the election showed that his vote had collapsed (indeed, the polls showed that it was Shawbonquit who had the momentum going into last night – the final poll before e-day actually had her three percentage points ahead of Thibeault). So it’s not clear to me that the Independent’s presence was damaging to the NDP – if anything, Olivier’s revelations seemed only to reinforce the NDP’s campaign narrative.

A strong Liberal ground game which pulled their vote may have been a contributing factor – to a degree. The fact is, the NDP also had a very strong ground game in play here, so I’m not sure the Liberal effort was determinative.

Voter turnout might also have played a role. In 2014, 52.5% of eligible voters in Sudbury cast ballots in the general election. NDP candidate Joe Cimino (whose resignation this past November triggered yesterday’s by-election), received 42.24% of the vote to the (then) Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier, who got 39.34%.

Turnout last night, however, was lower (only 25,747 voters cast ballots in the by-election, vs. the 22,725 who voted in the 2014 general election – by a quick calculation, based on similar numbers for eligible voters over the past 7 months, that means voter turnout here was down to around 40% - not bad for a by-election, but still a significant reduction from 2014). A lower voter turn out favours the parties with a strong ground game – but, again, it’s debatable that the Liberals performed better than their NDP counterparts in that department.

So after all of this analysis, we appear to be at a stalemate. Some factors might have had a small impact on the NDP’s loss – but was it enough to overcome the tone, mood, atmosphere and outright public hostility which Sudburians were expressing about the Liberals (mainly) and Thibeault (to a lesser, but still palpable extent)?

The NDP's Problem is the NDP

I’d argue that the primary deciding factor in the NDP’s loss (and I will continue to phrase it that way, rather than identify what happened last night as a Liberal win – for all of the reasons I’ve stated above, this election really was the NDP’s to lose) goes right back to the NDP itself as a Party – here in Ontario at the provincial level under leader Andrea Horwath, and federally under Tom Mulcair.

An interesting poll was released yesterday from EKOS which shows that support of the federal NDP has continued to plummet. EKOS has Tom Mulcair’s NDP down under 18% nationally. Back in the fall, EKOS was tracking the NDP in the mid-20s, where they’ve consistently polled since the spring of 2013 (before that they were higher).

Eric Grenier’s poll aggregator,, has the NDP slightly higher – but still at only 20% (and that doesn’t take into consideration yesterday’s EKOS poll). Say what you want about polls, but there’s really no denying the validity of the trends they reveal – and the trend here for the NDP has been one of failure – of being brought back down to where they used to poll in the 1990s.

Why is this? What’s going on? Why are people abandoning the NDP? Are the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne in Ontario and Justin Trudeau nationally that much better – that much more progressive – than they were under McGuinty or Ignatieff/Dionne? It’s certainly not clear to me that’s the case. So what is going on?

NDP has Lost its Way

What is clear to me, and apparently to a growing number of Canadians, is that the NDP has lost its way. In pursuit of electoral success, the NDP has shifted to the right of the political spectrum, but not enough or in such a way as to capture the imagination of centrists – but instead to portray itself as a Party willing to abandon it’s long-held principles in the pursuit of power. In short, the NDP doesn’t really stand for anything much any more.

And that was so evident during the Sudbury by-election. For the most part, the NDP’s strategy was to vilify Liberal candidate Glenn Thibeault on a personal level – to try to shame him. By emphasising the personal attacks – and let me be clear here, attacking another candidate on a personal level can be a very effective political tool when used at the right time, and Sudbury was probably the right time – left the NDP with little opportunity to discuss issues or publicly take positions on matters of local and provincial importance.

Sure, NDP candidate Suzanne Shawbonquit came out in favour of bringing a PET scanner to Sudbury (as did every other candidate), and she had some words to say about striking CCAC nurses and a lot more to say about potential lay-offs of nursing jobs at our local hospital (layoffs that haven’t happened yet, but the NDP enjoys dealing in rumours). Sure, she said some words – but she failed to articulate anything resembling a plan for finding a way forward. Saying that “we’ll stand up for jobs” isn’t really offering much in the way of substance to voters.

Was this Shawbonquit’s fault? No – it wasn’t. Although she was probably the worst candidate the NDP has offered up to Sudbury voters in decades, the fact is that her own Party had only thin gruel to give her in terms of ideas, initiatives, and substance on local issues. And that’s really the part of the growing trend which has shown that even the NDP doesn’t really understand what it stands for any more.

And so the NDP is in eclipse. And ultimately, that’s not good for Canada, because the NDP’s voice should be a strong one on many of the issues of importance to Canadians today – issues that the Liberals and Conservatives don’t want to touch, like climate change. But instead of a strong voice for Canada, the NDP is withering on the vine. I sincerely hope that both the provincial and federal parties engage in a lot of soul-searching over what happened here in Sudbury, because the disaster that befell the NDP here could be indicative of what awaits it later next year.

A Way Forward for the NDP

It looks to me like the NDP has two serious problems that it has to find a way to overcome. The first is leadership. Both Mulcair and Horwath have taken the NDP uncomfortably to the right of the political spectrum, and by doing so they’ve abandoned the core values of the party in pursuit of “populist” politics. We saw that play out in great detail here in Sudbury. New leaders are needed which will engage party membership so that a new and comprehensive plan for a way forward can be created. This new plan must be based on substance, good public policy and a return to supporting core values.

The second problem may be more difficult to overcome. In short, the NDP has to convince its allies in the Labour movement to get on board with taking real action on the climate crisis – or it needs to abandon Labour to the do-nothing Liberals. I realize that sounds very strange to many ears, but the fact of the matter is that a labour movement which refuses to take the climate crisis seriously, a movement which champions jobs in the fossil fuel sector over stranding assets, is a liability for the NDP going forward. Labour is a liability because by ignoring climate justice, it is working at odds against social justice.

The NDP's Dumb Economic Policies

Here in Sudbury, Suzanne Shawbonquit was forced to parrot the provincial party line that electricity rates (which the NDP in this province still want to refer to as “hydro” – even though less than a quarter of Ontario’s energy mix comes from water power. We probably should be calling our electricity bills “nuke bills”) are too high for people on fixed incomes – for seniors and for those living in poverty. The NDP’s solution, of course, is to lower the rates. They apparently also want to introduce a cap on gasoline prices in Ontario now too, for similar reasons.

Of course, if you artificially lower or cap prices, someone has to end up paying the difference. That would be the taxpayer – or, as increasingly preferred by neo-liberal governments – our children, born and unborn, with cost differentials made up through debt). It’s pretty easy to follow the route of the NDP’s plan to its conclusion: subsidizing fossil fuel use leads to higher taxes or debt – both of which will end up impacting those living on fixed incomes considerably. Along with the rest of us. In short, if you set out to develop the dumbest economic strategy that you could, you would arrive at the NDP’s plan.

And that’s to say nothing of the climate crisis. When you artificially lower the price of a good, chances are people are going to consume more of it. So much for conservation efforts. And since the rich are more able to consume, they’re going to be the big winners of this scheme – not seniors on fixed incomes, or those living in poverty. In fact, those living in poverty get hit twice here, even though their initial bills may be somewhat lower. They get hit through an unstable economy where higher taxes or debt is used to finance subsidies. And they get hit again by climate change.

Shifting Economic Paradigms

The labour movement, however, endorses consumption, because consumption creates jobs. That’s true – right up to the point where it isn’t true any more because the economy has collapsed because you’ve pursued a foolish, unsustainable fiscal policy. And that’s the heart of the problem – as long as labour is married to an economic paradigm dependent on growth (and as long as the NDP follows Labour’s lead), the very people whom the NDP claims to champion are actually put in increasing jeopardy.

To find success going forward, the NDP has to abandon a growth-centred economic development paradigm and replace it with one focused on sustainability. But that’s clearly not going to happen until Labour either gets its own act together – or until the NDP tells Labour to bug off.

I can’t see either of these things happening – yet they must happen. If they don’t happen, the NDP will continue to slip into irrelevancy. Ontario and Canada don’t need two Liberal parties. We need a party which understands and works toward implementing a sustainable economic paradigm.

I guess that’s why I’m with the Green Party, after all.

(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 Parties of Ontario and of Canada)