Monday, August 29, 2016

Will Federal Liberals Be Champions or Chumps on Carbon Pricing?

If you’re serious about wanting to take real, effective action on climate change, you’ve got to put a rapidly escalating price on carbon pollution.  That was the message speakers gave to Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre earlier this month at his climate policy town hall.  With Catherine McKenna, the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, expected to release a draft national climate change strategy later this fall, Members of Parliament across the nation have been engaged in public consultation all summer long (see: “Yellowknifers join Catherine McKenna to talk climate change,” CBC, July 12, 2016).  

If Minister McKenna wants her Liberal government to be taken seriously by Canadians clamouring for action on climate change, she’ll have to ignore some provincial leaders like Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, and put a national price on carbon pollution.  But pricing carbon is the easy part. Determining how the carbon fee will be collected, and how the revenues used are the more difficult decisions the Liberals will need to make.

“To work, the price on carbon has to be high enough to change behaviour,” says Laurentian University Professor of Economics Dr. David Robinson, who gave a presentation to MP Lefebvre about the need to send clear and strong signals to consumers (see: “Why Ontario’s Climate Plan Has Already Failed,” Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, June 19, 2016). “That means the [carbon] price is high enough to convince most people to stop using gasoline cars and stop using natural gas for heating.”

Robinson and others have suggested that an initial carbon price somewhere between $30 and $50 per tonne is an appropriate place to start.  To be effective, the price will need to rise to $100 to $150 per tonne by 2030. Right now, British Columbia has the highest carbon fee in the nation, at $30 per tonne, where it’s been stalled since 2012.  Alberta and Ontario’s climate plans call for an initial price of less than $20 per tonne, starting in 2017.

An effective climate change plan will require our government to convince the public that it’s serious about following through on escalating the price.  That means talking about how much more everything is going to cost consumers – and convincing voters that rising prices on goods and services are beneficial.  That hardly sounds like a winning political strategy.

Certainly, Ontario’s Liberal government was reluctant to go down that road. After hearing from the public about the need to put a transparent price on carbon, Premier Wynne and provincial Minister of Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray decided to use the most opaque method available for pricing carbon – a cap and trade scheme that exempts many of Ontario’s biggest emitters for several years.  Ontario’s plan hardly provides the right signals that the government is serious about the need to change consumer habits (see: "A Failure of Ambition: Ontario's Climate Change Plan," Sudbury Steve May, July 10, 2016).

Ontario and Alberta are going about carbon pricing the wrong way, treating it as a cash cow to fill government coffers.  Yes, the money collected from carbon fees is earmarked for new green infrastructure projects, like improving our public transit systems – but these are the sorts of investments that our governments should be making anyway, in the interests of our collective future economic prosperity, with existing tax dollars.

If elected officials like Lefebvre and McKenna are serious about climate change and want to champion the rapidly rising price on carbon needed to reduce emissions and incent alternative energy development, there is only one way to do it: give the lion’s share of revenue collected back to taxpayers in the form of a dividend cheque or an income tax reduction. The extra money in people’s pockets will help offset rising prices, and smart consumers will save money by selecting low-carbon options.

Canadians are looking for real leadership from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Let’s hope the federal Liberals choose to be climate champions, rather than climate chumps like their provincial cousins here in Ontario.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "Will feds be champions or chumps on carbon pricing?" in print and online as "Sudbury column: champions or chumps on carbon pricing?" August 27, 2016. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Letter of Complaint to the Ombuds and Appeals Committee of the Green Party of Canada Regarding a Violation of my Rights as a Member of the Party by the August 2016 General Meeting

The following is a letter of complaint that I have submitted to the Green Party of Canada's Ombuds and Appeals Committee (with copy to the Executive Director of the Party and my Ontario representative on the Party's Federal Council).

August 12, 2016
Re: Unconstitutional Actions and Activities Taken by the August 2016 General Meeting

To the Ombuds and Appeals Committee:

I am submitting a complaint to you in keeping with processes outlined in the Green Party of Canada’s Constitution and By-laws, and specifically in keeping with subsection 7.5.1 of the Party’s by-laws.  I am a member in good standing in the Green Party of Canada, and believe that I meet all of the criteria in the Constitution and By-laws of the Party necessary to file this complaint.

Basis of Complaint

This complaint is based on a decision of a unit of the Party which affected my rights as a member.  Specifically, the General Meeting chose to follow Robert’s Rules of Order as a process for making decisions at the recent BGM in Ottawa, rather than the Constitutionally prescribed Rules of Procedure (also known as “Green Rules”).

More specifically, the following items form the basis of my complaint:

1)      The use of Roberts Rules of Order contravened the Party’s Constitution;

2)      As a result of this contravention, decisions made at the General Meeting after the “adoption” of the Roberts Rules motion by the General Meeting must be considered null and void, as the General Meeting had no authority to make decisions through a process not contemplated by the Party’s Constitution.;

3)      The motion brought forward to adopt the use of Roberts Rules was not of an emergency nature, nor was the emergency nature of the motion even discussed/debated.  Failing to meet the test of an emergency motion, it should have been ruled out of order;

4)      The motion brought forward to adopt the use of Roberts Rules was not in keeping with the Green Party of Canada’s Constitution and By-laws, which set out the use of Rules and Procedures for General Meetings.  The General Meeting is bound to decision-making within the framework of the Party’s Constitution and By-laws. The motion should have been ruled out of order by the General Meeting facilitator;

5)      The expectations of members of the Party both in attendance at the General Meeting and those not in attendance has been that the General Meeting would conduct itself in accordance with the Party’s Constitution and By-laws.  That the General Meeting did not use the Green Party’s Rules of Procedure contravened not only the party’s Constitution and by-laws, but the expectation of the membership that the General Meeting would conduct itself in accordance with the Party’s Constitution;

6)      As the expectation of members that the General Meeting would conduct itself in accordance with the Party’s Constitution, By-laws and Procedures was not met, my rights as a member of the Party were violated by the General Meeting.

Potential Issue with Complaint Jurisdiction - Analysis

As per subsection 7.5.1 of the by-laws, the Ombuds and Appeals committee can only accept complaints pertaining to “organized Units and Functionaries of the Party”.  The General Meeting appears not to be a “Unit” or a “Functionary” of the Party, despite the fact that it is a decision-making authority (like Federal Council, which is defined as a Unit). 

However, the list of “Units” as per Section 7 of the Constitution cannot be considered exhaustive.  Subsection 7.2.7 of the Constitution allows for the extra-Constitutional creation of new “Units” by Federal Council or the General Meeting.

While I understand that the General Meeting does not undertake to identify itself as a “Unit” of the Party, I wish to point out that one of the roles of the Ombuds and Appeals Committee is to be responsible to the general membership at General Meetings (By-law Section 7.4), and is indeed sometimes called upon to make rulings on matters in front of the General Meeting, despite the General Meeting not having met the strict definition of “Unit” or “Functionary” of the Party. 

I submit that this complaint is similar in nature to complaints which could have been submitted to the Ombuds and Appeals Committee at a General Meeting, in keeping with the Ombuds and Appeals Committee’s function as per Section 7.4 of the by-laws.  The only difference is that this appeal of a decision made at the General Meeting is coming after the fact, and from an individual who did not participate in the General Meeting. 

Based on the fact that the Ombuds and Appeals Committee does receive and rule on complaints at the General Meeting, I believe the Ombuds and Appeals Committee has jurisdiction to receive and hear this complaint regarding a decision made by the General Meeting.

A quick comparison of Robert’s Rules of Order vs. “Green Rules”

The Green Party’s Rules of Practice (“Green Rules”) establish a consensus-based approach to decision-making, one which involves the role of “facilitator” as a guide to achieving consensus.  The very outcome sought by Green Rules is different from that of Robert’s Rules, which employs a “majoritarian” form of decision-making, where the outcome is to determine whether a matter under consideration simply passes a specific threshold of support. 

Not only are the Rules quite different in terms of the way in which they are implemented, the very outcomes sought by each set of rules is quite different.  Decision-making through the use of Green Rules seeks to arrive at a decision acceptable to a consensus of the decision-making body.  Establishing that consensus often requires the use of a mediatative process built into the Rules, led by the meeting Facilitator.  Meetings held under Robert’s Rules do not seek consensus, but instead are used only to determine support.

Motion GC16-08

This motion would amend the Party’s Constitution and By-laws to replace the use of Green Rules with Roberts Rules at General Meetings and the meetings of Federal Council.  I understand that the motion was adopted by the General Meeting, along with other motions “greenlighted” through the Bonser Ballot process.

However, in keeping with Section 10.1.3 of the Constitution, Motion GC16-08, although adopted by the General Meeting, was not in effect immediately after adoption for use at the General Meeting, because the motion had not been “ratified” by Members in a subsequent mail-in ballot.  This Section of the Constitution reads:

10.1.3
Amendments shall be adopted by a majority of the votes cast by Members in good standing at a General Meeting, and shall only become effective upon Members in good standing passing an identically worded amendment by a vote of greater than 1/2 (50%) of the votes cast in a Members' vote conducted by mail-in ballot, with a ballot return date of no later than one-hundred-twenty (120) days following the General Meeting at which the amendment was passed.

Therefore, the use of Robert’s Rules was not available to the General Meeting by the simple adoption of Motion GC16-08.

Adoption of Robert’s Rules by the General Meeting

Although not in attendance at the General Meeting, I understand that, on or about the time that the General Meeting’s Agenda was adopted, that the General Meeting adopted a motion to use Robert’s Rules for the remainder of General Meeting, and that in fact Robert’s Rules were used to guide decision-making processe in workshops and at the plenary session.

The Party’s Constitution and By-laws set out a process for bringing motions forward for consideration by the General Membership.  This process to amend the Constitution and By-laws was followed for Motion GC16-08 and other motions on the Bonser Ballot (at least up until the General Meeting determined that it would use Robert’s Rules, rather than the Constitutionally prescribed Green Rules of Procedure).

As per the Party’s Constitution and by-laws, and specifically as per subsection 4.3.3 of the By-laws, only emergency motions may be considered by the General Meeting, subject to meeting certain tests.  Subsection 4.3.3 reads,

4.3.3
Motions that are not submitted in advance and are moved from the floor of the meeting shall only be considered if they are of an emergency nature and shall require a 2/3 vote to be considered by the meeting.

As per the Green Rules of Procedure, in use when the General Meeting was called by the Party, does not provide for the moving of motions from the floor of a General Meeting beyond what is prescribed in the by-laws.

Based on my understanding of discussions which took place prior to the adoption of a motion which essentially replaced the use of Green Rules with Robert’s Rules, there was no discussion that took place which would have characterized the motion as being of an “emergency” nature.  And I submit that there could have reasonably been no “emergency” pressing on the General Meeting to substitute one set of rules for another at the General Meeting.

Analysis:

Without an discussion or actual or implied emergency, the motion to use Robert’s Rules for subsequent decision-making activities by the General Meeting was no in keeping with any established process in the Party’s Constitution and by-laws.  The motion should have been ruled out of order by the General Meeting facilitator.

Further, the motion itself cannot have been considered strictly procedural in nature, and the General Meeting facilitator ought to have known that, given that Motion GC16-08, was before the General Meeting for adoption.  GC16-08 would have amended the Constitution of the Party to allow for the use of Robert’s Rules. 

It is beyond the realm of comprehension to believe that the General Meeting, with a motion to amend the Constitution of the Party in front of it, believed that it had any authority to take the same action on its own initiative when clearly that action was already deemed to be beyond the purview of the Constitution. 

Is the Use of the Green Party’s Rules of Procedure Prescribed by the Constitution?

Giving the General Meeting the benefit of the doubt that it believed it could substitute one set of Rules for another to govern its decision-making processes, the question is then raised as to whether the use of Green Rules for General Meetings is prescribed by the Party’s Constitution.  Putting aside for a moment Motion GC16-08, which was clearly formulated with the belief that the use of Green Rules is a prescribed element of the Constitution and by-laws which GC16-08 sought to amend, a closer look at the Party’s Constitution and By-laws reveals that while some problematic wording exists, that only one overall conclusion can be drawn, and that is the use of Green Rules for General Meetings is a prescribed element.

Section 8.5 of the Constitution provides that General Meetings may be called by the Party.

Constitution, 8.5
General Meetings of Members shall be called in accordance with the Bylaws.

In this case, “called” should be considered to include not just the notice given in advance of the meeting, but all activities/procedures of the meeting (in other words, with regards to a “called” meeting, the requirement is that notice be given in accordance with the by-laws, and that the meeting follows all processes and procedures as set out in those by-laws).  Any other definition would defy logic, as it would not set out how a General Meeting would conduct itself, or even whether the General Meeting or its decisions would have to be made in keeping with the Party’s Constitution and by-laws, which are paramount for all decision-making within the Party.

Although better terminology maybe ought to be in the Party’s Constitution, I submit that the term “called” here includes not just notice requirements, but also alludes to the conduct of the General Meeting.

By-law 4 sets out the processes for General Meetings.  Perhaps somewhat problematically for my assertion, the only explicit reference to “Rules of Procedure” is found in subsection 4.3.5 of the by-law These are the Rules which the Party is required to maintain available to members as per 10.1.2.  These are the Rules on which the expectations of Members reside when it comes to decision-making within the Party, including by our Federal Council and at General Meetings.

While subsection 4.3.5 refers only to specific actions which might take place at a General Meeting (amending a motion), this subsection is written in such a way as to suggest that it is presumed that the “Rules of Procedure” are already being used.  The “In accordance with” comment which prefaces this subsection implicitly implies the use of Green Rules.  Otherwise, it would make no sense that for the amendment of motions, Green Rules be used, but that for all other actions of the General Meeting, a different set of Rules could be in effect.

Subsection 4.3.5 reads,

4.3.5
In accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the Party, the text of motions, including amendments to the Constitution or Bylaws, may be changed at a General Meeting providing the original intent of the motion or amendment, as received by the Members with the notification of the General Meeting, is maintained.

By-law 10 provides a list of documents which the Party must keep available for Members.  Subsection 10.1.2 indicates that one of these documents is the “Rules of Procedure”.  The Party’s website even includes a helpful hyperlink from the Constitution to the Rules of Procedure.  It is clearly an important document for the Party – and one which I am suggesting is integral to the interpretation of decision-making processes as per the Party’s Constitution and By-laws.

The introduction of the Rules of Procedure appears to confirm the importance of this document, and makes an explicit reference that these Rules are to be used at general meetings.  In part, the Introduction reads,

Rules of Procedure - Introduction
These are the full procedures for use at Canadian Greens / Green Party of Canada general meeting (convention/gathering) plenary sessions. A more relaxed version of these procedures may be used for smaller meetings, sub-meetings or workshops.

Taken together, the “calling” of a General Meeting as per the Constitution, the requirement for the Party to make available the Rules of Procedure to all Members, the assumption that a General Meeting is already using the Rules of Procedure to guide decision-making at the meeting as per subsection 4.3.5 of the by-laws, and the explicit reference found in the Rules of Procedure that they be used by the General Meeting, it appears evident that the use of the Rules of Procedure for General Meetings is a requirement of the Constitution and by-laws.  Further, this analysis appears to be shared by the authors, supporters and all Members who voted on motion GC16-08, which sought to amend the Constitution and the By-laws to replace the ‘required’ use of Green Rules.

Article 2 of the Constitution

Article 2 of the Constitution is clear.  2.1 reads,

2.1
This Constitution and Bylaws shall govern the activities of the Party, all persons operating on behalf of the Party, and the rights, responsibilities and duties of its recognized Units, committees and membership.

Final Analysis

The General Meeting, by using Robert’s Rules for decision-making at the meeting, instead of the Constitutionally prescribed Rules of Procedures, acted in a manner which was inconsistent with and (in my opinion) offensive to the Party’s Constitution and By-laws.  By virtue of undertaking the use of a decision-making process, one based not on the consensus-based approach of Green Rules, but instead of the more adversarial and majoritarian approach offered through Robert’s Rules, the General Meeting contravened not only the letter, but the spirit of the Party’s fundamental guidance documents: the Constitution and its by-laws.

The option to substitute the use of Robert’s Rules over the use of Green Rules was not an option available to the General Meeting, as it was not in keeping with the Party’s Constitution.  More explicitly, the General Meeting should have known this, given the very presence of Motion GC16-08, which sought the same substitution of Rules, but through a process mandated by the Constitution!  In any other year, it may be that the General Meeting, had it opted for the use of Robert’s Rules, might have done so on the basis of Constitutional ignorance – but the presence of GC16-08 as a matter being dealt with by the General Meeting suggests that ignorance of this Constitutional requirement for the use of Green Rules was extremely unlikely. 

That is not to suggest that the General Meeting sought to harm the Party – but it is to suggest that the General Meeting, and especially its facilitator, ought to have known that the use of Robert’s Rules at the General Meeting was not in keeping with the Party’s Constitution.

Harm

Did the use of Robert’s Rules harm the Party?  Interestingly, the notion of “harm” does not appear to be one f the considerations which the Ombuds and Appeals Committee should use as a basis for its determination.  Instead, I point the Ombuds and Appeals Committee to the notion of Member’s “rights”.   But I will, briefly, address the notion of harm.

Despite it being fairly clear that the will of the membership was to substitute the use of Green Rules in favour of Robert’s Rules at some point in the future (as per the success of motion GC16-08), the clear expectation of Party members was that the consensus-based approach prescribed by Green Rules was to be used at this specific General Meeting of members.  The use of Green Rules might have led to different outcomes, especially where contentious issues were discussed.  I don’t know if ultimately the use of Robert’s Rules at this specific BGM has “harmed” the Party, but I strongly suspect that abiding by the prescribed Rules of Procedure might have led to different outcomes, particularly on contentious matters.

Rights

What is clear is that my rights as a member have been violated.  I chose not to attend the BGM in part based on the expectation that the General Meeting would conduct itself in a manner prescribed by the Party’s Constitution and By-laws.  This included the use of Green Rules for decision-making.  As you are probably aware by now, this kind of thing matters to me – I don’t think I would be taking the time to file this complaint with you if I did not feel that my rights had been violated.

Again, while we will never know whether different outcomes might have occurred at the BGM had Green Rules been used, I strongly suspect that there may have been a greater emphasis to find consensus at the meeting had the right set of rules been employed by the General Meeting.  The use of Robert’s Rules may have led to policy and directive motions being adopted by the General Meeting which might not have occurred through the use of Green Rules, given the significant difference in process and outcomes between the two sets of rules.

Remedy

Again, I urge the Ombuds and Complaints Committee to find that the actions and activities of the General Meeting were not in keeping with the Party’s Constitution and By-laws, and that the decisions made by the General Meeting which stemmed from a process that used Robert’s Rules should be considered null and void.  I understand that such a decision on the part of the Ombuds and Appeals Committee may appear heavy-handed, given the significant work undertaken by the developers of policy and directive proposals (of which I am one), along with the hard work by members constituting the General Meeting.  But nevertheless the fruits of that work have been irrevocably tainted through the use of a decision making process not in keeping with the Party’s Constitution and By-laws.

The Ombuds and Appeals Committee has the authority to deal with this complaint.  Please hit the reset button and declare the decisions of the General Meeting null and void.  My rights as a Member of the Party require you to take this action.

Sincerely,

Steve May, Officer of the Nickel Belt Greens EDA

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Lip Service from Neoliberals Won’t Help Climate Crisis

You’ve probably heard it said that we can have both a healthy environment and a healthy economy. Usually, these words are spoken by environmentalists in response to those that claims taking meaningful action to reduce the impacts of climate change are too costly.   Of course, the costs of inaction are much higher – an estimated drain of between 5% and 20% of the world’s GDP annually, according to the seminal Stern Reviewof on the Economics of Climate Change (October, 2006).  That’s literally tens of billions of dollars per year taken out of the global economy.

Presently, we have both a sick environment and a sick economy.  The sickness at the heart of our neoliberal economic system has disastrously endangered our natural environment, which in turn is taking us down the road of economic ruin.  There will be no clean planet without a healthy economic system to sustain it.  Or more accurately, human civilization will not continue to thrive on the planet without an economic system which makes a healthy environment its first priority.

We’ve known about the perils of climate change for decades.   And we’ve long known about what actions we will have to take if we are going to avoid the very worst impacts of a warming world.  There are many solutions, but only a few actions will deliver both the healthy environment and sustainable economy that the planet needs for human civilization to thrive. Finding the right balance is critical if we’re going to avoid collapse.  To strike that balance, we’ve got to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.

Along with being a necessity, there is no denying that the switch to a low-carbon economy represents a clear and present threat to our current economic system – or rather, to those who reap the majority of the benefits of that system.  But our political elites can’t any longer ignore the calls made by the people for climate action, or the warnings made by experts on the long-term costs of inaction.


What may be flying under the radar, however, are similar calls which are being made to restructure our neoliberal economic system.  These calls are coming from people’s movements which have taken on many forms, from anti-pipeline activism to Occupy Wall Street to those calling for Fair Trade. In Canada, the authors of the LeapManifesto (September, 2015) made the clear and compelling connection between action on the climate crisis and economic reform. Experts, like Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, are warning governments and corporations of the dangers of both wealth inequality and catastrophic climate change (see:“Bank of England governor Mark Carney says climate change is an economic problem,” CBC News, July 15, 2016). 

Calls for systemic economic restructuring are starting to resonate.  South of the border, both Republican and Democratic Party nominees support changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (see:“Where Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump Stand on Economic Issues,” the Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2016 (updated July 27, 2016) . Both have said that they will not sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (see:“Clinton’s TPP controversy: What you need to know,” CNN, July 27, 2016).

As with past climate change commitments, it’s difficult to take seriously statements made by the political elites who champion a neoliberal economic system completely at odds with ending inequality and slowing global warming.  Promises are made, but little action is taken – and what little is taken is largely ineffective.

The Leap Manifesto calls for an end to the economics of austerity, and for the emergence of the truly sustainable economic system that we need for a healthy planet.  But as long as political elites on both the left and the right continue to champion fossil fuel growth and neoliberal policies which enrich the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us, we’ll have neither the social and climate justice necessary for all of humanity to thrive. 

Politicians need to read the writing on the wall, and understand that voters aren’t going to accept lip service in place of real action for much longer.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "Neoliberal lip service won't help climate crisis," in print and online, July 30, 2016. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Failure of Ambition: Ontario’s Climate Change Plan

Ontario’s new Climate Change Action Plan has drawn a lot of fire since it was released this past June (see: “Ontario Liberals unveil $8.3 billion climate plan to mixed reviews,” the Toronto Star, June 8, 2016).  With almost stunned disbelief, critics have focused on the Plan’s level of ambition, claiming the $8.3 billion Plan will do too much too quickly, irreparably damaging Ontario’s economy in the process (see: “Is Wynne’s green plan creative destruction or political suicide?” Tasha Kheriddin, iPolitics, May 16, 2016).

I say that’s nonsense. There’s a lot to be critical of, but the Plan’s ambitiousness certainly isn’t high on the list – not when the compared to the response demanded by the climate crisis. Instead of a systems-wide response to the crisis, our Liberal government has created a plan to do more planning – with implementation timeframes that stretch in some cases beyond their current mandate. 

Don’t misunderstand me – there are some really good ideas in the Climate Change Action Plan which should lead to actual emissions reductions while simultaneously investing in communities.  The Plan’s focus on the transportation and buildings may very well kick-start long overdue transformations if critical actions are implemented. Supports for the sale of electric cars and changes to the Building Code to require Net Zero building envelopes here come to mind.

But the Plan falls flat when it comes to providing the kind of incentives that will really change consumer behaviour, largely due to its unambitious starting point.  Environmentalists and economists have long agreed that the most efficient and cost-effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to put a price on carbon pollution.  Ontario’s Liberal government is finally going to start pricing carbon, but through an expensive cap and trade scheme that allows the government to play favorites, picking and choosing winners.  That approach might be a good one if your goal is to maximize photo-ops for cabinet ministers, but it won’t lead to an aggressive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Ontario expects its $17 per tonne price for carbon pollution to slowly increase over time, leading to reduced emissions and more revenue for the province to re-invest in green initiatives (see: "Cap-and-trade's real cost," Lorrie Goldstein, the Toronto Sun, May 21, 2016). Unfortunately, carbon markets elsewhere, including California, Ontario’s Western Climate Initiative partner, haven’t managed to rise to the occasion (see: "California's cap-and-trade program faces daunting hurdles to avoid collapse," the Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2016).  The culprit has primarily been governments who interfered in their own markets by giving away carbon allowances to select industries, leading to market stagnation or collapse.  Economics 101 teaches us that the prices aren’t going to rise when you flood the market with free goods.

Already, the Ontario Liberals have publicly expressed concerns that their Cap and Trade scheme may not  live up to revenue projections (see: “Ontario Liberals rethink $1.9 billion cap-and-trade projection in uncertain market,” CBC News, June 4, 2016).  Since the Climate Change Action Plan will be primarily funded through Cap and Trade, there’s already considerable doubt whether enough money will be available to implement all of the Plan’s undertakings.

Ontario could have opted for a straight-forward tax on carbon pollution, collecting it at the source of emissions.  This approach would have guaranteed revenues for the government, and cut out the traders, bankers and lawyers who stand to be the biggest winners with Cap and Trade. Of course, a straight forward carbon tax wouldn’t allow the government to play favorites with industry friends like Fiat Chrysler, which recently received an $85.8 million incentive to produce a hybrid mini-van in Windsor – something that Fiat Chrysler might have done anyway if consumers were demanding low-carbon vehicles because of high carbon pollution costs (see: “Ontario premier says $85.8 million grant for Chrysler is not corporate welfare,” Global News, June 15, 2016). 

A $50 per tonne carbon fee collected by the government and returned to consumers might have been incentive enough for industries to transform their own business models, while leaving consumers with money in their pockets after making greener choices.  Of course, pricing carbon pollution at anywhere near its actual cost to society would require a level of ambition that Ontario just isn’t ready to demonstrate. We’ll continue to fiddle while the planet burns.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "Climate change plan a failure of ambition," in print, and online as, "Sudbury column: Climate change plan lacks ambition," July 2, 2016. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Anti-Reality Positions on Climate Change Have No Place in Mainstream Discourse

It must be difficult being a climate change denier today.  It’s not that any sudden flood of facts and evidence have suddenly been made available which quashes any serious dispute about the validity of anthropogenic global warming aka climate change.  No, that science and evidence has long been available, and has been the subject of a massive number of peer-reviewed academic articles, 5 assessment reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and innumerable popular publications.  The “greenhouse effect” that drives global warming due to industrial emissions of carbon dioxide has been in the mainstream of scientific thought for over a century. 

So it’s not that anything new with science has been making life difficult for climate change deniers lately – but rather, it’s the shift that it is so evidently underway in the mainstream media and the public – away from the use of non-evidence based sources as a starting point in any and every discussion around climate change, and towards one which uses reality as a starting point.

In other words, it’s just no longer acceptable to deny the existence of the climate change paradigm.  If you deny anthropogenic global warming is occurring, you’re in conflict with reality – and that’s a difficult starting point for any conversation about climate change.

Climate Change Deniers: Down on Their Luck

Which kind of leaves climate change deniers like Tom Harris out of luck.  Harris, one of Canada’s most notorious conspiracy theorists, has long held the position that climate change isn’t real. 

More importantly, the hypothesis that carbon dioxide emissions from human activity is damaging the climate has been thoroughly debunked by reports such as those of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change,” Harris wrote in response to a piece from the Heartland Institute on wind turbines being a health hazard (see: "Heartland Institute Experts Comment on Wind Turbines Being a 'Human Health Hazard'," October 29, 2015).  Clearly, for Harris to make such a wild claim which conflicts with our scientific reality, he must subscribe to radical conspiracy theories which have been disproven as fiction time and again.

Harris and other anti-reality climate change deniers have become increasingly marginalized by a media and a public which have moved on to a conversation about climate change that’s focused on what we’re going to do about it – and not whether it actually exists.  This must be personally frustrating for someone like Harris, who got used to the spotlight through fossil fuel-funded denier activities. In the past, Harris tried to take on some truly important and lofty people and organizations in his bid to convince the public that global warming is actually a global conspiracy.  In today’s media environment, apparently he’s found himself reduced to challenging what amounts to Joe Blow members of the public who understand and believe in the reality of climate change.

The Myths Climate Change Deniers Believe

To my surprise, Tom Harris turned his sights on me this past week – and if that’s not a sign of how low the might have sunk, I’m not sure what is.  I’m a member of the Green Party, and a blogger, who writes a column published in my local newspaper once a month.  I’m hardly in the same league as David Suzuki, Elizabeth May, or the United Nations – which have been the target of Harris’ anti-reality diatribes in the past.  But I guess when you’re down on your luck, you pick the fights you think you can win.

And for Harris, this really is the sort of fight that he can mail in, after doing his climate change denial schtick for over a decade.  Harris claims that I used a “misleading” term in a piece published by the Sudbury Star.  The term in question is “carbon pollution”, something Harris claims is really just carbon dioxide, which he states is “anything but pollution”.  With this, he’s evoking the classic denier myth that carbon dioxide isn’t harmful – a myth the denial industry continues to perpetuate, even though it doesn’t stand up to even a base level of scrutiny.

Harris’ critique of my column actually doesn’t say anything that’s new.  It’s almost as if he’s running a Google Search of the term “carbon pollution” and has a pre-written Letter to the Editor template that he uses, substituting only the author’s name in key passages.  The attack isn’t exactly cutting edge.

Nor does it take a lot of energy on my part to refute his core thesis, mainly because others have done so time and again.  Yes, carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas in our atmosphere.  It helps plants grow. Without it, there would be no human civilization.  And that’s why the term “carbon pollution” is an important one to use when discussing anthropogenic global warming – aka “climate change”, because really we are not talking about naturally-occurring carbon dioxide, but rather the additional carbon dioxide that humans are emitting into our atmosphere through our fossil fuelled industrial processes.  That’s the key.  But Harris and other conspiracy theorists want to confuse people about that.

Why "Carbon Pollution" is a Thing

The term “carbon pollution” is both a scientifically supportable term and an acceptable colloquialism. To my knowledge, I’ve never used it in an inappropriate context. But don’t take my word for it – instead, check out Skeptical Science, who can be counted on to referee these sorts of disputes.

How we choose to define the word 'pollutant' is a play in semantics. To focus on a few positive effects of carbon dioxide is to ignore the broader picture of its full impacts. The net result from increasing CO2 are severe negative impacts on our environment and the living conditions of future humanity.” (from: “Is CO2 apollutant?” Skeptical Science)

I’ve always maintained that language is important, and as a result, I’ve always tried to be very careful about the words I use to convey the ideas that I’m writing about.  I’ve also considered it important to use fact and evidence as the primary vehicle for advancing a thesis, although like any writer, I’m sure that I’ve used my share of emotion and rhetoric as well.  What I deliberately try not to do, however, is make up facts and evidence to suit my own needs – a rule that climate change deniers and conspiracy theorists like Tom Harris clearly don’t subscribe to.  For example, even in his mailed-in attack on me, Harris insists that carbon dioxide emissions remain a topic of “intense debate in the science community,” a statement clearly contrary to reality.

Moving On

Tom Harris continues to preach his anti-reality nonsense to whomever will still listen to him.  I don’t expect this leopard to change his spots no matter how much fact and evidence is made available to him. Nor am I going to waste my time pointing out to him the error of his ways, or engaging him on meaningless and irrelevant red herring discussions about levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere during the Jurassic.

What surprised me most this week, however, was not that Harris would choose to turn conspiracy theory vitriol on me (although, as indicated above, why he’d want to take on a Joe Blow blogger is a little boggling), but rather that our local newspaper chose to print his screed at all – especially when he starts the conversation from a point of view in complete conflict with reality.  Publishing this sort of nonsense does nothing to further any “conversation”.  It only succeeds in giving nutters like Harris a platform to perpetuate their strange, strange point of view. 

Earlier this week, we read about the situation where an argument between individuals over whether the Earth is flat led to property damage (see: “Cops called after fight breaks out over Earth’s shape in Ontariopark,” the Sudbury Star, June 14 2016). That’s pretty hard to believe in this day and age – but there are people out there who hold views about the physical world which are contrary to reality.  And although sometimes these views can come into conflict with the evidence-based views most of the rest of us hold, it’s not often that Flat Earthers are given a public platform from which to rant.  Tom Harris and other climate change deniers are no different from Flat Earthers – both fail to “believe” in science, whether that’s physics or chemistry.

What’s clear to me is that the Sudbury Star – the paper that I write for – needs to join the rest of society and move on from the “discussion” about whether climate change is real.  There’s a lot that can be said about how we’re going to deal with the climate crisis – it’s not as if the media is going to run out of things to print.  But denying the existence of climate change is out of step with reality – and as such, it’s really not a myth that our media should be promulgating. I hope that the Sudbury Star, and other media, think twice in the future about giving precious space to those who use anti-reality beliefs as the starting points to whatever position they are arguing.

Take a moment to share your thoughts on this with your local media outlets.  If you'd like to let the Sudbury Star know that you're not in favour of seeing anti-reality pieces in their paper, you can send a message to the Editor by filling out this form.

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be considered consistent with the policy and/or positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Active Transport Still A Challenge in Sudbury

The Commuter Challenge kicked off this Sunday, June 5th. People are encouraged to walk, cycle, carpool or take the bus to work. Participants can track carbon emissions saved and calories burned.  Local workplaces compete for bragging rights. In Greater Sudbury, events are planned throughout the week, including a Kid’s Bike Exchange on Saturday, June 11th at the Farmer’s Market.  It’s the one week of the year where the community comes together to celebrate active and healthy transportation.

For the other 51 weeks, we’ll continue to celebrate the car.  Not necessarily because we want to – but because we’ve designed our cities in a way that makes it convenient for drivers, and inconvenient for all other transportation users.

We know the benefits of active transportation – walking and cycling are good for our health, which is important in Sudbury where 32% of the adult population are considered obese (see: Obesity (adjustedBody Mass Index)” Sudbury & District Health Unit).  And when we’re not driving our motor vehicles, we’re not burning gasoline, so we save money and carbon emissions.  We all know that we would benefit from making active transportation choices, but it’s just so easy to reach for those car keys.

Let’s face it: cars get us to where we want to go, fast and comfortably. Over the years, our roads have swelled in size to accommodate more cars, travelling at faster speeds.  Even in cities like Greater Sudbury where the population has been stagnant for decades, we’ve prioritized building public infrastructure to cater to car convenience – often at the expense of healthy transport options.

Perversely, we’ve widened our streets in the name of safety, and built more of them to battle congestion.  We know now that wider streets lead to faster-moving vehicles, creating less safe environments for all road users.  And we know that due to induced demand, the more streets we build, the more congestion we get.

With this in mind, one might expect that we would prioritize healthy, active transportation choices over widening and building more roads. But the lure of free-flowing traffic is still the Holy Grail of traffic engineers, and over-designing our streets remains the order of the day.

Of course, retrofitting our cities for healthier transportation choices isn’t something that is going to happen overnight.  The poor choices we’ve made in the past will ensure that there will be added costs to build a minimum grid for cyclists and create complete streets for all users. Going forward, we can save money by including active transportation infrastructure on all of our new roads, and add it to the mix when we refurbish our existing roads.

This year, the City of Greater Sudbury will be rehabilitating Lorne Street.  Plans shared with the community earlier this year revealed that the new Lorne Street will look much like it does today, only with fewer potholes (see: "Rehabilitation work proposed on Lorne Street," CBC, April 6, 2016). Lane widths will be expanded for cars, but there will be no new infrastructure set aside for the exclusive use of cyclists.  Area residents have petitioned the City to include separated cycling infrastructure, but the City appears poised to miss yet another opportunity to transform a major arterial into a truly complete street, with safe dedicated space for all road users. 

Sudburians are increasingly discovering that there are already many ways of safely getting around the city without a motorized vehicle. Yet, challenges for commuters remain.  We know the benefits of getting people out of their cars – a healthier population, lower emissions, and less congestion on our roads.  It's time we take what we've learned and build the City that a prosperous future requires.

For more information on the National Commuter Challenge, please visit the Sudbury Cyclist Union’s website.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "Active transport still a challenge in Sudbury," in print, and online as, "Column: Active transport a challenge in Sudbury," June 4, 2016. Some minor updating has occurred to reflect the timing of publication in this blogsite.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Jane Jacobs’ Urban Vision Coming to a City Near You

Had urbanist Jane Jacobs lived to be 100, she would have celebrated her birthday earlier this week. Jacobs, a journalist by training, was a champion of people and cities and helped shape the urban realm during the latter part of the last century.  Her influence on place-making is even more poignant today, as cities across the continent begin retrofitting as part of a shift towards the low carbon economy.


In  “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, Jacobs made the case that the best places to live are the ones scaled to people.  At the time of its publication in 1958, North America was in the midst of a highway building boom which would not taper off until her ideas eventually became mainstream in the 1980s.  Today, we take it for granted that great cities are the realm of people, not cars (see: “How Activist Jane Jacobs Changed the Way the World Thinks About Cities,” Annalies Winny, Vice.com, March 10, 2016).

And yet, although we understand the lessons Jacobs taught, we have largely continued to comprehensively ignore them in the design of our cities and suburbs.  Too often, municipal decision makers continue to emphasize a car-centric vision for urban design, rather than one where our communities are built at the scale of walking and cycling. New cookie-cutter subdivisions, often located on the fringes of existing built-up areas, are serviced by needlessly wide streets that make getting around without a car difficult. Big box “power centres” are built with enough parking to accommodate what U.S. urbanist Marc Lefkowitz refers to as the “100 year shopping event” (see: “Who will (and won’t) pay for water-polluting lots,” Marc Lefkowitz, GreenCityBlueLake, April 28, 2016).

For Jane Jacobs, and for many others who have flocked back into our inner cities, the suburban built form proved not only to be spiritually desolate, but also economically unsustainable.   The social and economic costs of commuting great distances to work have required private and public investments in infrastructure that have left many people and cities teetering on the edge of insolvency.  It may be true that land values are generally lower in suburban areas, making those areas more attractive to home buyers, but the additional costs associated with suburban living often tilt the balance in favour of inner-city dwelling, especially in circumstances where a family chooses not to own a car.

As we shift towards a low carbon economy, we are already seeing our governments and businesses beginning to back the transportation options we’ll need to use to get around.  Light and heavy rail systems are being built or proposed in cities like Brampton, Hamilton, London and Kitchener-Waterloo. Separated busways already exist in Mississauga and Ottawa.  Transit not only helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it also facilitates the type of urban built-form that makes our cities vibrant, people-centred places.

Not everyone will choose to live in our retrofitted cities.  That’s fair, but it might prove to be more expensive in the future, once pollution and congestion pricing programs become the norm. For too long, we’ve subsidized suburban living through artificially low energy prices and other fiscal breaks for car owners, including building and maintaining our expansive road and highway systems, and providing low cost storage options for vehicles through free parking.  Our subsidies have led to inefficient urban sprawl, a development form which typically does not offer a positive return on investment.


Jane Jacobs has shown us what makes cities great.  In our shift towards a low carbon economy, we’ve already started knocking down some of the barriers we’ve erected to prevent creating people-centred urban areas.  In the future, our cities will be more compact, less focused on cars, and more economically sustainable.  That’s all good news – but the great news is that as a spin-off, we’re going to create more vibrant communities for people.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "Jane Jacobs' urban vision coming to a city near you," in print and, "Sudbury Column: Jane Jacobs' urban vision coming," online, May 7, 2016.