Friday, March 27, 2009

Greater Sudbury and the Green Economy: What We Have to Offer

(originally posted at S.A.G.E.: Sudbury Advocates for the Green Economy, Facebook Group)

The Toronto Star trumpets: “1,200 green jobs in the works for Kingston”. What can I say? I’m very happy for Kingston, a City with a population of about 120,000, located approximately 3 hours away from Toronto. Seems to me that building high-tech solar panels using cutting-edge robotics will benefit their municipal economy by providing employment opportunities with very good wages. That’s what the green economy is all about.

And Kingston appears to be strategically positioned to take advantage of the green economy. It’s a medium-sized Canadian city with good access by road and rail to other markets (notably Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal via the rail corridor). It has a number of institutes of higher education, including Queens University. It has a highly-trained workforce in place. It’s a good place to raise a family, as home prices aren’t as silly as they are in the Greater Toronto Area, and just outside of the City are many opportunities for recreation. It’s got that Quality of Life thing going on.

All of what I just wrote about applies equally to the City of Greater Sudbury, except that part about the 1,200 green jobs coming to town. But what’s ultimately good for Kingston can as well be good for Sudbury, because the more the message gets out that the green economy isn’t just about businesses in Toronto, the stronger that message becomes.

The City of Greater Sudbury, in many respects, is already investment-ready. We’re lucky enough to have a lot of planned infrastructure already in the ground. We have a tremendously skilled workforce on which to draw on. We have Laurentian University, College Boreal and Cambrian College to form business partnerships with (and they’ve been doing a decent job of it already). Our City has become a centre of excellence for the arts community, and remain a top tourism draw. We have access to markets across Canada with the Trans-Canada highway going through town, and more importantly for the Green Economy, we’ve got access to both of Canada’s major rail lines. We’ve faced a significant environmental catastrophe and have emerged stronger and greener as a result.

A lot has been going on to attract new business initiatives to our City, and those sorts of activities need to continue. We can’t lose sight of the successes we’ve already had. But nor can we rest on our laurels. Largely, we remain an undiscovered secret in Ontario, and in Canada, even though we have so much to brag about.

And we need to start doing some of that bragging, which can translate into economic opportunities such as that to now be enjoyed by the people of Kingston. Our business leaders, our municipal councillors, and all other leaders within our community need to continue to trumpet Greater Sudbury’s successes to potential investors, and actively engage green businesses with the goal of selling them on Sudbury’s incredible advantages.

I often hear from my fellow citizens that Sudbury has nothing to offer, that there’s nothing going on here. I want to tell them to open their eyes and look at all that is going on here, from the high-tech discoveries made at the SNO-lab in Creighton Mine, to the expansion of the arts community, downtown revitalization, the development of the Centre for Excellence in Mining innovation, green building initiatives, the reforestation of a whole community, Science North...the list goes on and on. Most other cities in Ontario would be extremely jealous of all that we have to offer our citizens and business community. If they’re not jealous already, it’s only because they’re unaware of what we’ve got going on up here.

Let’s continue to talk-up our town, and make connections with the business leaders of the green economy. Surely only good things can come of that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Proposed Barrydowne Extension

(originally posted at: S.A.G.E. : Sudbury Advocates for the Green Economy; Facebook)

From today’s Sudbury Star:

So, it looks like Council will begin the process of studying the proposed Barrydowne Extension. As many of you know, talk of an extension of Barrydowne north from it’s current terminus with Maley Drive all the way out to Hanmer has been around for a long while. This route has been depicted in the City’s various planning documents for many years. In a very real sense, this is not a new proposal. And it is one which will be welcomed by many Sudburians currently using Highway 69 North for their daily commute from the Valley into Sudbury, as one of the stated purpose of the Barrydowne extension is to reduce traffic along 69 North. City Councillor Andre Rivest (Ward 6) has been one of the champions for the building of this road for a while now.

Given the above, why am I opposed to the proposed Barrydowne Extension? Isn’t this new road needed in our community?

The short answer to the second question is no, it is not needed. The reasons for that answer are why I am opposed to the proposed Extension. And those reasons have everything to do with the Green Economy and how we go about building a community for the future, rather than for the past. This issue is about a lot more than building a new road. It’s about what kind of community we want to have for our families in the future.

You see, the Barrydowne Extension makes sense within a certain context: If there is to be more low density residential development on agricultural lands in the Valley on the fringes of built-up areas, where residents will have no choice but to get around by way of personal automobiles, than the Barrydowne Extension appears to make some sense. If we build another road to service this exurban development, it will alleviate traffic pressures on the only other existing transportation artery, Highway 69 North. With the Barrydowne extension, we can get more people in more cars from low density residential areas in the Valley to their jobs, recreation and shopping opportunities within Sudbury.

If we are to continue to think about the future of our community in these terms, the Barrydowne Extension certainly would make a lot of sense.

The economic health of our community, however, is in peril from this out-dated, past-oriented, brown mind-set. Communities of the future, which embrace the coming green economy, are already thinking ahead, and making integrated decisions which compliment each other, in order to achieve a desired community vision.

In and of itself, the Barrydowne Extension is not a particular problem, although the costs associated with its construction might be more than the average Sudburian would like. The problem is that building this road keeps open the lid of the Pandora’s Box of problems we have in here in Greater Sudbury which require our immediate attention and action. These problems are: the loss of good, local agricultural lands to low-density, unsustainable development on the fringes of our communities which contribute to an energy-dependent car culture. We will continue to build infrastructure, but not communities.

And this makes absolutely no economic sense. As noted by one of the Sudbury Star’s online comment-writers, by continuing to invest in a City of the Past, we miss out on opportunities to invest those same dollars in projects which we need to build a community ready for the future. That future community, the one we need to start building now, will not have as many places in it for energy consumption-intensive development patterns. People simply will not be able to afford to live in many of the low density subdivisions which are being built today on our suburban fringes. The costs of home heating and transportation will make those locations undesirable. And the fact that many of these areas are built on some of the best farmland in Northern Ontario really adds insult to injury, because we all know that the Green Economy of the future is going to emphasize the need for investments in local agricultural products.

The Barrydowne Extension will continue to facilitate this kind of backward-looking, brown way of community building. The overall costs associated with its development go far beyond the engineering and construction costs which will be cited by everyone involved in the coming debates.

Those of us here interested in building a community ready to embrace the future need to be cognizant of the very real threat posed by the Barrydowne Extension. Simply put, we can’t keep throwing our money away on projects which hinder our prospects to build a Greater Sudbury ready to embrace a green future.

I note that the Sudbury Star indicates that this project needs to first go through an Environmental Assessment process. This will be the one significant opportunity that we will have for public input. We need to seriously start thinking about mobilizing our efforts here. Hopefully, we can use S.A.G.E. as a vehicle to help convince City Council that it would be unwise to invest in the Barrydowne Extension.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Little Birds singing "Every Little Thing is Gonna Be All Right"

(originally posted at

It’s hard not to dwell on the pessimism prevalent in the national press coverage of the global financial crisis. It seems that almost every day, one expert or another contradicts previous estimates for the length of time that it will be before a recovery sets in. Earlier in the year, the public was being told that recovery would begin in the third quarter of this year, and that the Canadian economy could be expected to grow by upwards of 3%. Now, the latest "experts" are predicting a longer recessionary period with recovery only starting in early 2010, and it’s likely going to be hampered by a period of very slow growth.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives continue to sing the same old tune, which sounds a lot like Bob Marley’s "Three Little Birds" ("Don’t Worry About A Thing"; ok, I confess, I had to look up the title on Wikipedia). Media commentators have been quick to justify Harper’s positivity in the face of this massive economic upheaval by claiming that Canadians need to be told that things are going to be all right, lest there be panic in the streets leading to a larger financial crisis. I guess Harper telling us that every little thing is gonna be all right might actually be the strongest plank in the Conservative’s economic stimulus plan.

But I’ve always believed that Canadians have done much better when we’re told the truth by those whom we’ve elected to power, rather than being led astray by wishful thinking. With this in mind, I started to think whether or not I’m right, or Stephen Harper is right: do Canadians want our government to tell us the truth?

In the last election, the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP didn’t see the need to have a discussion with Canadians regarding a number of the looming crises which our nation will be confronting in the coming decades. There wasn’t even much of a peep about the economic crisis which began to emerge a few weeks before the vote took place, even though it came as no surprise to many in the financial sector. Discussions about global warming were high-jacked by partisan rhetoric about how a tax on carbon would or would not destroy Canadian households. And even that certainly wasn’t high on the list of important issues amongst the three major national parties, particularly after Stephane Dion went silent.

Only the Green Party stood up and talked about the coming crises of climate change and global warming; peak oil and increased energy costs; and, the crisis in public service delivery we’ll experience brought on by shifting demographics as a result of baby boomers retiring.

Based on the results of the last election, one could conclude that perhaps Stephen Harper has it right, and I’ve got it wrong: Canadians aren’t really interested in hearing about the challenges we’re all going to be facing in the very near future. Form triumphs over substance. After all, the Green Party didn’t elect a single MP. It’s easy to think that maybe Canadians aren’t keen on thinking ahead, or planning for a future which is going to be vastly different from our present.

Look beneath the surface, though, and there are some hopeful signs that the opposite is actually true. Support for our Party increased. Our Leader, Elizabeth May, was part of the nationally televised debates after a grass-roots outcry changed the minds of decision-makers. Our party had more organized campaigns than ever before, and although we did not elect any MP’s, certainly many voters, even those who did not vote for us, were sympathetic to our Party.

One of the things that we will have to focus on next time is to convince those sympathetic voters to throw in their lot with us. And I think one of the best ways to do so would be to stand up and tell Canadians the truth about the situation we’re all in, about the future that we’re going to be facing. Whether they want to hear it or not. And I believe Canadians, once they hear about a future told to them by the Green Party, will want to understand more about this future, about both the challenges and the opportunities.

The fact is, the other parties are too focussed on partisan games to have this discussion with Canadians. As a result, we can own this ground. One of the challenges for us, though, as a small party, will be to begin to shift the media around to providing coverage about issues that matter (substance), rather than spending the majority of its time on Stephen Harper’s sweaters or pooping puffins (that’d be "form").

In these difficult economic times, even the media might be more interested in discussing issues. Certainly I believe Canadians are ready to become involved in such a discussion. And together we can begin to turn things around, offering vision, leadership and hope about real issues. Indeed, to become the only choice for Canadian voters concerned about what’s just around the corner. We know it’s there. We can hear it breathing. Why do the "Three Little Birds", the Conservatives/Liberals/NDP, want to pretend it’s not there? Is it maybe because if they tell us about it, we’ll expect them to do something about it, and when we realize they have no plan, we’ll look for someone better to lead us?

No. It couldn’t be that. Maybe it’s just because it’s easier to get votes if no one ever worried about much of anything.

Is it any wonder that it’s so difficult not to be pessimistic?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"Bloc Newfoundland & Labrador" Party?

(originally posted at

Well. Looks like it takes an article in the Toronto Star ( quoting highly-placed (and colourful!) persons to generate any further discussion about this old blogpost of mine:

But, with Liberal Senator George Baker chatting with the press today about the potential inevitability (and that's a legit concept in Newfoundland) of the formation of a Newfoundland and Labrador separtist party, I felt the need to re-visit this old post.

Now, you've got to take Mr. Baker with a few grains of salt, it's true. But it's really not that far-fetched to think that he's likely onto something here. The time is particularly opportune for the formation of such a beast, for all of the reasons I've identified previously (and for some of the ones George identifies in his roaring rant to the media).

Ultimately, I continue to feel that this would spell bad news to our Party. But perhaps there is an opportunity sitting here for us to seize on? I don't think that the Green message has really resonated that well with Newfoundlanders, but if the winds of change are truly starting to blow in off of the mainland, perhaps we can steal some of the gail and turn our own ship around.

Rather than a "Bloc Newfoundland", how about a Green Party committed to fight the good fight for Newfoundland and Labrador? To honour agreements with the Province made by previous governments. To agree to, once and for all, resolve the boundary disputes with Quebec (which are starting to cause tensions now that Quebec has decided to dam some of the rivers flowing out of Labrador for hydro-electric projects).

We need to explain to Newfoundlanders that a tax on carbon will not kill off shore oil development, but will instead position the economy for a more sustainable, and ultimately more green, form of energy development. Investments in alternative energy, such as tidal, could also be made in Newfoundland.

And then there are all of the rest of our good policies which make sense throughout Canada.
I'm just not sure what we would tell Newfoundlanders about the seal hunt that they would want to hear. But we might be able to think of something. I've heard it said that the seal hunt is to Newfoundland like arts funding is to Quebec.

Unless we begin to make a concerted effort to woo the voters of Newfoundland and Labrador into our camp, offering them a chance for real change within a national framework, I really do believe that Mr. Baker's prediction might come true. And while I would hate to see a "national" political party waving the pink-white-and-green flag of separatism, I also can't blame Newfoundlanders for feeling that their voice isn't being heard in Ottawa.

Kind of like the 7% of Canadians who voted for the Green Party in the last election!