Monday, December 5, 2016

Letter to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Re: Overall Benefit Permits to Destroy Species at Risk Habitat in the Proposed Maley Drive Extension Corridor

The following is a copy of a letter submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry in response to a posting on the Environmental Registry for comments on ER number 012-8874 - the issuance of overall benefit permits for the destruction of species at risk habitat in the proposed corridor of the Maley Drive Extension in the City of Greater Sudbury.

I've written extensively about the Maley Drive Extension proposal in the past.  My latest blogposts on the matter are: "Ontario's Environmental Assessment Process is Failing Species at Risk in Sudbury," April 26, 2016, and "Sudbury's Male Drive: A Case Study in the Erosion of Species at Risk Protection in Ontario," April 8, 2016.  Both provide some background of where the Maley Drive matter is currently at with regards to all three levels of government which have expressed an interest in building this new road - right through the habitat of two threatened species, whipporwill and Blanding's turtle, in absence of an Environmental Assessment which assessed impacts and alternatives.

You read that correctly: No Environmental Assessment has ever been undertaken which looked at alternatives to the route selected for this new road.

Here's my letter:

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Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the matter of the issuance of overall benefit permits related to the proposed Maley Drive Extension in the City of Greater Sudbury.  

The Environmental Assessment prepared to support the proposed Maley Drive extension was undertaken by the City of Greater Sudbury in the mid-1990s, and finalized in 1995 (the “Maley Drive Extension Class Environmental Assessment” prepared by Marshall Macklin Monaghan for the Region of Sudbury, dated October, 1995).  The 1995 Class Environmental Assessment was the last time at which input on the Maley Drive proposal was specifically sought of the public at large.
In 2008, an Addendum to the 1995 Class Environmental Assessment was completed, after the terms of reference for the project were altered somewhat (the “Maley Drive Extension / Lasalle Boulevard Widening Municipal Class EA Addendum” prepared by Earth Tech (Canada) Inc. for the City of Greater Sudbury, dated May 15, 2008).  The Addendum was prepared with limited public consultation.  It was also prepared in an environment which did not question the underlying socio-economic assumptions of the 1995 Class EA.

Neither the 1995 Class EA or the 2008 Addendum identified the presence of habitat of species at risk. 

This is astonishing, given that the one of the purposes of a Class EA is to provide an opportunity for the public to provide input to a project based on a baseline understanding of physical and socio-economic features.  The project is then informed by these public comments, and alternatives are assessed against a number of criteria.  In this case, the alternative choice to address the identified transportation issue became the proposed Maley Drive Extension – the creation of a new road to run between Lasalle Blvd. in the west and Barrydowne Road in the east.  As it turns out, this new road was planned to run directly through the habitat of two species at risk – whipporwill and Blanding’s turtle.

It has been only after the announcement of provincial and federal funding for the Maley Drive Extension project that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is considering the issuance of overall benefit permits to allow the destruction of species at risk habitat within the proposed Maley Drive Extension corridor.  This assessment ought to have occurred a long time ago – during the Class Environmental Assessment process.  However, for whatever reason, that did not happen.

Rather than the province compelling the City of Greater Sudbury to return to and review the 1995 Class EA to consider alternatives for the transportation issue identified at that time (and indeed to determine whether the underlying socio-economic assumptions about growth made more than two decades ago are still relevant today), the province instead opted to consider the City’s request for the use of overall benefit permits.  I understand that we can’t turn back the hands of time – but I did want to identify here that it appears that the provincial processes which might have led to sustainable outcomes for species at risk through the preservation of natural habitat have never been explored in the context of the Maley Drive Extension project.

With that in mind, I would like to remind the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry that one of the requirements for receipt of an overall benefit permit is that, “reasonable alternatives have been considered, including alternatives that would not adversely affect the species, and the best alternative has been chosen.” (see: source: “Species at risk overall benefit permits,” the Province of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/species-risk-overall-benefit-permits). 

With regards to “reasonable alternatives” for projects, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry documentation goes on to indicate (with my emphasis added in bold):

Requirement: consider reasonable alternatives
You will need to show the Ministry of Natural Resources that you have considered reasonable alternatives to your activity.
Alternative approaches to your activity include:
·         changing the location of the activity
·         using alternative methods, equipment or technical designs
·         changing the timing of the activity to avoid times when the species is there or is most sensitive to disturbance
·         changing the geographic scale, duration and/or frequency of the potential adverse effects
·         adding or changing approaches and timing of site restoration or rehabilitation after the activity is done
When considering reasonable alternatives to your activity, you must:
·         consider at least one alternative that would completely avoid any adverse effects on species at risk
·         identify alternatives that you considered but did not think were reasonable because of biological, technical, social or economic limitations
·         explain why the approach you have chosen is the best alternative” (source: “Species at risk overall benefit permits,” the Province of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/species-risk-overall-benefit-permits)

It is here worth repeating: at no time have any reasonable alternatives to the physical location of the proposed Maley Drive Extension through the habitat of species at risk ever been considered by any level of government.  The vehicle for providing that level of assessment – the Class Environmental Assessment – failed to identify the presence of species at risk habitat, and even the Addendum prepared over a decade later failed to identify the presence of the habitat.  At no time has the City of Greater Sudbury, the Province of Ontario, or even the Government of Canada ever considered alternatives to the proposed route.  However, all three levels of government have committed funding to this project.

Without appropriate consideration given to alternatives, it is premature to conclude that the best interests of the species in question is served through the issuance of an overall benefit permit and the re-creation of species habitat in other locations.  Habitat re-creation would not be necessary had the (former Region of Sudbury’s and the City of Greater Sudbury’s) class environmental assessments identified the species at risk habitat in the first place. 

I respectfully request the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to decline the issuance of overall benefit permits at this time, and reserve for itself the opportunity to issue permits at some point in the future – at a time when alternatives to the traffic issue identified in 1995 (if still relevant based on current socio-economic assumptions) been assessed through a public process.  In short, the City of Greater Sudbury should be directed to undertake a new Class Environmental Assessment based on current data, which looks at appropriate resolutions to any specific traffic issue identified. 
It may be that the City, with a complete data set and through a public process, arrives back at a point where the preferred solution requires the construction of a roadway through the habitat of species at risk.  In that case, at least the Minister can have some assurance that alternatives to this outcome have at least been considered and discarded.  That’s clearly not the case with regards to the request for overall benefit permits that the Minister is tasked with evaluating today.


Thank you again for the opportunity to provide these comments.

(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)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Let's Make the Regent Street Crossing at Junction Creek Safe for Pedestrians

The following is a letter to Greater Sudbury's Operations Committee regarding a request for a decision on pedestrian traffic signals requested by two community organizations and Greater Sudbury utilities, for a location on Regent Street, midway between intersections at Ontario Street and McLeod/Hyland streets.

A copy of the City of Greater Sudbury's Manager's Report to the Operations Committee is available here.

Sudbury Moves has an excellent time-lapse video which shows people (most of whom appear to be employees of Greater Sudbury Utilities) using this crossing one winter morning.  It's available here.

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December 3, 2016

To: Members of Greater Sudbury's Operations Committee

Re: Request for Decision – Pedestrian Traffic Signal Request – Regent Street at Junction Creek Crossing

I am writing to you today with regards to an item appearing on your Committee's agenda pertaining to a request for a pedestrian traffic signal on Regent Street, near the location where Regent Street traverses over Junction Creek. According to the Staff Report in front of you today in support of the Draft Resolution, this request for a signalized pedestrian crossing comes from Rainbow Routes Association, Connect the Creek Partnership, and Greater Sudbury Utilities (GSU).


I sincerely hope that you will take a moment prior to any vote at today's Committee meeting to consider these comments.

Disconnect Between Request and Resolution

While the City appears to have been approached by local trail organizations and the GSU to consider a pedestrian crossing, there appears to be considerable disconnect between what was requested of the City and the City's proposed response to that request. It is apparent that concerns were raised with the City by the trail organizations and GSU with regards to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists with crossing Regent Street at this location. After what appears to have been several years worth of consideration since the original submission, the City's proposed solution to this safety issue appears to be one which does absolutely nothing to make the current situation safer for users of the Junction Creek trail or GSU employees.

Posting signs urging pedestrians to travel more than 400 metres out of their way just to cross the road is not a safe – or sensible – solution to a matter of health and safety. These signs will do little or nothing to change pedestrian behaviour in this location. As the Staff Report points out in a different context, pedestrians “do not go out of their way to use traffic signals to cross the road.” With this in mind, there seems to be a significant disconnect between the City's solution (posting signs to advise pedestrians to use traffic signals located about 200 metres away to cross the street) and the observed and expected behaviour of pedestrians who desire to simply cross the street in this location.

Even after the installation of signs in this location, we can expect pedestrians to continue to cross the road here – to get to work, and to continue their journey along the trail. With this in mind, wouldn't it make more sense to find a solution to the on-going safety issue which is likely to lead to a situation of greater safety?

Public Input

While the Staff Report does not indicate when the request for a crossing was submitted to the City, it can be surmised that it was at some point prior to June 10, 2014 – the date that the City conducted a pedestrian and cyclist count at this location. That means that the City has had this request before it for a period of approximately two and a half years, if not more. It appears that during the past two and a half years, the City has not attempted to engage the public in any way, shape or form with regards to this request for a crossing. If opportunities were made to engage the public, it may be that I missed them – but I find it unlikely that there would be no reference to public engagement in the Staff Report had it occurred.

I find the lack of public engagement troubling. Why did the City choose not to consult with the very people who would be impacted by this decision – specifically, those who are currently crossing Regent Street to access the trail, or to simply get to work every day? It may have been that, after engaging with the public, alternative solutions to a signalized crossing might have been proposed, and a consensus on a finding a safe way forward might have resulted.

Further, had the City actively sought the input of the public on this matter prior to the preparation of its Staff Report, I doubt very much that I would be writing this letter to you, alerted to this issue as I was by a media article about the Staff Report. I regret this last minute submission, however this matter has only came to my attention on Friday, December 2nd.

Warrants

Pedestrian counts in unsignalized locations are always going to be impacted by the fact that pedestrians are choosing not to use facilities like the trail in this location because of the perceived unsafe crossing. For example, I am a user of the Junction Creek trail in and around this location, yet I refrain as best as I can from using the portion of the trail between Riverside Drive and MacLeod Street because of the unsafe crossing across Regent Street. While I might be able to dodge vehicles in a manner similar to what GSU employees appear to have to go through every day just to get to work, when I have my three small children in tow, crossing Regent at the trail simply isn't an option. That means that my family and I are deprived of the joy of using the trail, and are forced to walk along busy streets which are less friendly environments for children – and indeed for all pedestrians.

If there were a way to cross Regent Street more safely at this location, I suspect that there would be more people crossing the street. While I understand the provisions of OTM Books 12 and 15 are being followed here, it is hard to imagine that more people wouldn't cross the road if they could do so safely. Therefore denying the creation of a safe crossing point because not enough people are using the crossing out of concerns related to safety seems to be, to say the least, perverse.

Connecting the Trail

Not only is the trail in this location a part of the Junction Creek Waterway Part – it's also a part of the Trans Canada Trail – a trail that stretches across the entirety of our nation. Increasingly, trails like the Trans Canada trail are attracting tourists to communities which are lucky enough to be located along the trails. It has been an on-going goal for the past several decades to connect various sections of the Trans Canada Trail so that trail users are exposed to a minimum of interactions with motorized vehicular traffic. Not only does segregating trail user from motorized traffic lead to a safer circumstance for trail users, it leads to a more pleasant trail experience – one more likely to be replicated by others.

Posting signs that encourage pedestrians to cross the street at signalized intersections 200 metres away from the trail is not at all in keeping with a desire to connect the trail – and indeed, it appears that the City will be going out of its way to make life more difficult for trail users.

Further, while it will always be that cyclists will have the option to use either the Junction Creek Trail or a signed bicycle route along McLeod-Hyland and Wellington Heights as a detour around this section of the trail – I think one has to ask themselves whether creating a signed bike route for the express purpose of detouring around an unsafe trail connection (the Regent Street crossing) is working at cross-purposes to promoting the trail as a safe and healthy transportation route for cyclists? If a safe way to cross Regent Street at the trail were proposed, there would be no need for this detour (although it may be that there remains a separate need for cycling facilities along McLeod-Hyland)

Motorized Vehicular Traffic

I understand that there are concerns with regards to the potential for northbound traffic to back-up into the Regent/McLeod-Hyland intersection because pedestrians are utilizing a signalized crossing to safely traverse the street at some point mid-way between McLeod-Hyland and Ontario Street. The Staff Report rightly points out that it is illegal for motorists to block an intersection. Speaking as a motorist, I believe that we can rely on motorists to follow the rules of the road in a majority of situations that they find themselves in. This includes not entering an intersection when there is no possibility to clear the intersection prior to the light turning. That there will be some motorists who, for whatever reason, choose not to follow the rules of the road, is not a rationale to refuse to install facilities for pedestrians to use to safely cross the road.

For consideration, the City recently installed a pedestrian crossover on Brady Street at the Shaughnessy Street intersection. Brady Street is classified as a Primary Arterial in the City's Official Plan (while Regent Street in the location of Junction Creek is classified as a Secondary Arterial), and as such, we can expect that traffic volumes along Brady are some of the highest in the City. The intersection of Brady/Shaugnessy is less than 100 metres west of the Brady/Paris Street intersection, arguably one of Greater Sudbury's highest volume intersections. It's also less than 100 metres from the Brady/Lisgar intersection. If the City were really concerned about the behaviour of motorists blocking intersections as a rationale for refusing to install safe crossings for pedestrians, it is highly unlikely that the City would have ever installed a pedestrian crossover at this location on Brady Street, no matter whether it was warranted.

Alternatives to Request

Public consultation might have revealed that there may be alternative design elements which could be built into a safe pedestrian crossing at this location. Design elements such as a crossover with a pedestrian island refuge mid-street would lessen concerns about traffic backing up through intersections, as motorists must only wait for pedestrians to clear the crossover between the sidewalk and the island, rather than to clear the crossover in its entirety (which would take twice as long if traversing an equal number of lanes, which is the case on Regent Street). Yes, there would have been an additional cost to install an island in this location, but at the very least, the City should have explored this option (and likely other options) with those directly impacted by the request for a safe crossing.

My Request To Operations Committee

My request to Operations Committee is to put this matter on hold, and direct Staff through Council to engage with trail users, GSU employees and the public at large, on a way forward to create a safe crossing for pedestrians who are, and will continue to, cross Regent Street at the location. Public engagement may reveal sensible alternatives which address the safety needs of pedestrians along with any perceived issues which may affect motorists in this location.

Please keep in mind that pedestrians will continue to cross here without a signalized crossing, putting their lives at risk just to follow a trail or to get to and from work. It is unreasonable to believe that pedestrians will detour the distance of four football fields to arrive at a point directly in front of where they started, just tens of metres away. It's not happening now (although some, like me, are avoiding this area all together), and it won't happen in the future.

Let's acknowledge this issue and resolve it in a way that leads to a positive community building outcome. Let's make sure that people have a safe way to get across the street at this crossing.

(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, November 23, 2016

With Trump, It's Time to Talk Carbon Tariffs

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” – Donald Trump, November 2012.

The election of Republican Party nominee Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States of America means that there will be dark days ahead for those concerned about the climate crisis. Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”(see:“Yes, Donald Trump did call climate change a Chinese hoax,” Politifact, June 3, 2016). , campaigned on tearing up the 2015 international Paris climate treaty (see:“Donald Trump promises to rip up Paris climate agreement in energy speech,” MSNBC, May 26, 2016) , and expanding U.S. energy production from the very dirtiest form of carbon energy – coal (see: “Donald Trump, in Pittsburgh, pledges to boost coal and gas,” the New York Times, September 22, 2016).

The chances of a Trump administration putting a price on carbon pollution are somewhere between zero and when hell freezes over.

Trump is already in the process of disassembling out-going President Barack Obama’s meagre climate change initiatives.  The Keystone XL pipeline is being resurrected from the dead (see: “Donald Trump Victory Breathes New Life Into Keystone XL Pipeline,” the Huffington Post, November 9, 2016), and cries of “Drill, Baby, Drill!” are emanating from his transition team as they talk of opening more federal lands and oceans to fossil development (see:“Trump advisor promises a return to ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’,” ThinkProgress, November 15, 2016).

If the writing wasn’t already on the wall throughout Trump’s junk-science fueled election campaign, the appointment of well-known climate change denier Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency transition team was like erecting a 10-storey high billboard telling the fossil fuel industry to let the good times roll (see: .“Myron Ebell, the Climate Contrarian Now Plotting the EPA’s Precarious Future,”  InsideClimateNews, November 16, 2016). 

Over in Marrakech, Morocco, at the COP22 climate conference, delegates from around the world are shell shocked.  They’re putting on a brave face, pretending that it’s still business as usual (see: “Climate skeptic Trump makes environmentalists at Morocco meeting sweat,” USA Today, November 10, 2016).  Ultimately,  the international community will have to confront the U.S. as a rogue state – and international leaders like Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had best start turning their attention towards that.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is already thinking ahead.  Earlier this week, Sarkozy said that Europe ought to consider placing carbon tariffs on U.S. imports if Trump refuses to put a domestic price on carbon pollution.  Talk of tariffs is only going to increase as more regions and nations price carbon – while Trump calls for more protectionist trade policies, and for tearing up trade deals like NAFTA (see: “Trump vows to ‘rip up’ all trade agreements,” The Hill, March 3, 2016).

Not that it will likely matter to Donald Trump, but the World Trade Organization has already given a nod towards legitimizing carbon tariffs to protect business exposed industries that are subject to domestic carbon prices (see: “WTO and Border Adjustment Laser Talk,” Citizens Climate Lobby, undated).  While the federal Liberals haven’t yet released the specifics of their climate change plan, the plan will almost certainly have to include carbon tariffs that will level the field for goods crossing the Canadian border nations that refuse to price pollution.  

A national carbon tariff would also benefit provinces like Ontario, which is rolling out a Cap and Trade scheme in 2017. One of the big criticisms of Ontario’s Cap and Trade initiative is that many of the province’s biggest polluters won’t have to pay into it for several years, due to being deemed ‘trade exposed’(see:“The climate plan and you,” Dr. David Robinson, Northern Ontario Business, July 4, 2016).  The freebie allowances they’ll be receiving from the government will depress the market, and may render the whole initiative ineffective. Premier Kathleen Wynne has been intending on using Cap and Trade revenues to fund a myriad of climate initiatives. With a national carbon tariff in place protecting trade exposed industries, it may be that Ontario can quit handing out permits to pollute. That’ll be better for both the environment and the government’s bottom line.


Carbon markets are popping up everywhere.  China, long deemed a climate enemy thanks to its reliance on coal to power economic growth, has committed to opening the world’s largest carbon trading market next year (see: “China Will Start the World’s Largest Trading Market,” Scientific American, May 16, 2016). In a world turned upside down, it was China that emphatically told President-Elect Trump that he would be defying the wishes of the entire planet if the U.S. opted out of the Paris agreement (see:“China warns Trump against abandoning climate change deal,” the Financial Times, November 11, 2016).

(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, "With Trump in, it's time to talk carbon tariffs," in print and online as, "Sudbury Column: Time to talk carbon tariffs vs. U.S.," November 19, 2016, without hyperlinks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Alt-Reality and the Coming Realignment

It's been a difficult time for me, since November the 8th.  I, like so many others, had bought into the mainstream media story that Democratic Party nominee Hilary Clinton had the U.S. Presidential election in the bag.  Sure, I was aware of a late-election surge for Republican Party nominee Donald Trump, thanks in part to FBI Director James Comey's leaked letter about possibly needing to revise his statement to some Congressional Committee or other about Clinton's emails, based on what the media was reporting to be new information obtained from the Federal Bureau's investigation of Anthony Weiner.  I knew it was going to be close – but my faith in Americans to do the right thing remained strong, and although I made plans to stay up late to watch the election results roll in (and to see whether or not Trump was going to concede in the face of those results), I really secretly thought I'd be turning in before midnight.

At least I got that last part right.  I turned the television off and shut the cover to my laptop at a little after 11pm.  At that time, the analysts and pundits were talking about battleground Michigan, but Flordia and Ohio had already fallen to Trump.  And although Pennsylvania hadn't been called for either candidate, Trump's lead seemed pretty strong there.  In Pennsylvania.  I knew it was all over, and not worrying about whether Clinton would concede, I decided to get a good night's sleep – knowing that I was going to need it, just thinking about the next four years.

But I didn't have a good night's sleep.  I tossed and turned and dreamed in fits and starts that Clinton had managed to pull off some sort of bottom of the ninth rally – maybe taking New Hampshire and Nevada, and thanks to the good people of Detroit, Flint and Philadelphia, maybe she had managed to eke out a victory in Michigan and Pennsylvania.  The American people know best, surely. President Trump?  It can't be a reality.

Unfortunately, President Trump was the reality I woke up to.  On my way to work I tweeted that I had just seen Mr. Spock with a beard, because I was certain that I had started this day in another dimension.  The real world was still carrying on as it should somewhere else – with President-Elect Hilary Clinton doing media interviews on breakfast television.  It was just me that somehow got stuck in another universe.

No Skin in the Game

Let me back up a moment, because I think that those reading this blogpost might be under the illusion that I wanted Clinton to win the election.  This is where things get complicated for me, but luckily on the level of actually being able to affect any outcomes, I didn't have any skin in the game.  As a Canadian, I did not cast a ballot in the election.  And as a Green, I think it's fair to say that had I been able to vote, it would not have been for Hilary Clinton.  Therefore, it's difficult for me to even project myself into the U.S. election, beyond acknowledging that had I been a participant, I would have been wasting my time and would have had zero impact on its outcome anyway.

Of course, that's really no different than many of the millions of Americans who voted for Clinton.  More Americans actually voted for Clinton than for Trump (see: "Final Vote Count 2016," Snopes.com, November 13, 2016. The Snopes article also provides insight into claims made by Trump supporters that it was Trump, not Clinton, who ended up with more votes - more on fake news in another blog!), but because of the U.S.'s antiquated and unfair electoral system, the States gets President Trump with a smaller number of votes.  Sure, it's all perfectly legal.  Just for those voters in states like California and Washington where they're still counting ballots – well, I think they know clearly that their votes mattered as much as the imaginary vote that I would have cast for U.S. Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

Climate Change on my Mind

You see, my issue is climate change.  It's not the only issue that I care about, but it's one that I care about deeply.  I think I have a pretty good grasp of the implications of climate change, and I'm extremely concerned about the lack of action we've taken to address what we know will be the impacts of a warming planet.  With that in mind, for me, what happens in the U.S. matters significantly.  The U.S. sidelined itself by not ratifying Kyoto.   Under President Obama, who promised that his presidency would see the rise of the oceans begin to recede, the U.S.  actually regained its status as one of the world's largest oil and gas producers (see: "Despite Protests, Oil Industry Thrives Under Obama Agenda," Bloomberg.com, January 5, 2015).

With climate change in mind, it's clear to me that the Democratic Party has been a disaster for the planet.  Years of saying one thing and doing another under Obama have clearly (to me) been lost years in the global fight against climate change.  Sure, there have been a number of small victories and tentative steps forward (cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline was mostly symbolic, but it was the right symbol; the Paris Climate Change treaty is a little more substantive, as is the recent Canada-U.S. Agreement to limit fugitive methane emissions). So the Democrats have been a disaster – but perhaps not a complete disaster.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have been a complete disaster for the planet.  There are still actually a significant number of elected Republicans who don't believe in the reality of climate change, and instead subscribe to conspiracy theories which they've mainstreamed for the U.S. (and partially for Canada's) right wing.  If the Republicans ever seized power with a climate change denying President and both houses of Congress under their control, well, it probably would be game over for the planet.

Uhm, ya, so about that....

Looking for Hope Amidst Planetary 'Game Over'

Anyway, all of that's to say that I'm coming at this election from a bit of a different place than most.  I couldn't vote, and even if I had voted, I would have done so knowing that my vote wasn't going to matter.  I've believed that both candidates would fail to take meaningful action on an issue of importance to me.

Strangely, though, the idea of President-Elect Donald Trump gives me hope.  Don't misunderstand me:  my hope doesn't reside in the person of Donald Trump or any of his “policies” whatever it is that they might eventually amount to.  My hope is that the very presence of Trump at the pinnacle of world power might finally lead to real progressive, democratic reforms.  And real action on climate change.

Now, I don't expect the U.S. to march off and change its unfair electoral system.  But Trump's presence in the White House might give Trudeau and Canada's lawmakers pause, and stiffen the Liberal's resolve towards making 2015's federal election the last unfair election in this nation.  The prospect of a frowning, flag-wrapped Trump wannabe in the form of Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch might just be enough to convince the Liberals that it's time to try out proportional representation (because it's become increasingly clear that actually listening to Canadians wasn't going to be enough for Trudeau).

No Avoiding Seismic Political Shifts

I think we're going to see some pretty interesting things over the next four years, many of which are likely to be uncompromisingly negative.  Trump, who thinks climate change is a Chinese conspiracy (see: "Yes, Donald Trump did call climate change a Chinese hoax," Politifact, June 3, 2016) isn't likely to go along with the Paris agreement.  He is likely to do a great deal of damage to the environment and the atmosphere.  That's a huge problem.  Who are Americans going to look to for leadership on climate change (and on what's likely to be a number of other pretty big issues)?  A failed and flailing Democratic Party that's in the hands of business elites?  Maybe initially.  Bernie Sanders tried it that way. 

Ultimately, I think it's going to become increasingly clear to Americans that the Democratic Party isn't their friend, and has consistently failed to look out for the interests of Americans.  Either the Democratic Party is going to undergo some sort of internal transformation, or the animosity is going to boil over and we'll see something else emerge as one or two political entities. 

21st Century Fascism - American-Style

Republicans might love the idea that the Democratic Party is about to dissolve, but they shouldn't feel too comfortable.  Trump is no conservative, even if there is some overlap of his issues and what's important to conservatives.  Which side of the issues will moderate and conservative Republicans find themselves on?  Trump's agenda is nationalistic in its outlook – I would call it more Mussolini-style fascist than Ronald Reagan-conservative.  Republicans might quickly find themselves having to choose between their values (economic and social) – and continuing to go along on the populist Nantucket slay ride that Trump took them on.  Without an election for a couple of years, it's not clear to me that Trump is going to get the (relatively) free ride from his own Party that he enjoyed throughout the campaign (and no, I didn't miss the whole Republican 'Dump Trump' brouhaha – but it really did seem to fizzle in the end, didn't it?).

Republicans are ultimately going to have to search their own souls and decide whether they want to be conservatives or fascists.  Yes, fascists (I'll be doing a follow-up blogpost at some point in the near future about why I think it's important to call Donald Trump and his ilk what they really are – and about why I clearly believe they are 21st Century fascists).   And I suspect the Trump bandwagon isn't going to be as crowded with Reagan Republicans going forward.


The Failure of Liberalsim


What's happening in the U.S. is all a part of a global realignment of political interests, due to a rising understanding that liberals and conservatives have both been implicit in the promotion economic and political systems that disenfranchise and impoverish the majority of citizens.  I realize this may sound unbelievable to many, but liberals like Hilary and Bill Clinton, Justin Trudeau and - yes - Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley - have been a part of the growing problem, rather than offering much in the way of solutions.  Sure, maybe liberals haven't been as nasty as conservatives, but in some respects, they've actually been more successful than the right-wing at moving neoliberal economic interests forward.  Don't believe me?

Back to Obama and the growth of U.S. Oil and gas.  What about Prime Minister Trudeau, who seems poised to permit massive carbon bombs in the form of B.C. Pacific North West LNG and an anticipated Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain approval?  Or Bill Clinton's deregulation of the banking industry.  Or the growth of generational national debts?  And none of that even touches on issues of systemic corruption which successive "liberal" governments in both nations (and let's not forget Tony Blair in the U.K. while I'm ranting) which we've come to accept as "business as usual".

No, for too long, conservatives and liberals have put their own interests at the forefront – interests that revolve around the profitability of multinational corporations at the expense of the rest of us. They have not been champions for the average person. Their pursuit of neoliberal economic policies has been reactionary, rather than progressive, when one considers the growing wealth gap between the rich and the rest of us.  What both liberals and conservatives have chosen to champion is the opposite of sustainability.

Renewing Progressive Political Choices

In Canada, it's my hope that the NDP finally gets its act together and figures out that it really does, after all, want to be a champion of the common person.  And for the Green Party, it's my hope that it comes to realize that it has a partner in an NDP which has (ultimately and finally) rejected liberalism.  Greens and New Democrats both need to acknowledge that the only way forward is through the rejection of our neoliberal economic system and poll-driven populism.   The coming realignment may see Greens and New Democrats working together to defeat liberals like Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley (yes, I said Rachel Notley again – that was not a mistake).

Our problem, going forward, is that fascists like Trump would be even worse when it comes to sustainability – and I'm not just talking about the environment or resource extraction or climate change here.  Trump might want to tear up international trade agreements (although I don't really think he actually will), but he's certainly not going to do away with the the elite-enriching neoliberal economic system and move towards co-operativist capitalism.  More likely, America will end up with a true kleptocracy, where national wealth is laid out like a buffet at a wake, with rich industrialists helping themselves to all the goodies while the body of the 99% lies in state.

It's a brand new world now.  When the mainstream media in the States are routinely interviewing David Duke and the leader of the U.S. Nazi Party for their reaction to Trump's transition team appointments (see: "White nationalists see advocate in Steve Bannon who will hold Trump to his campaign promises," CNN, November 15, 2016) – there can be no doubt that we all woke up on the morning of November 9th in an alternate universe.  But perhaps it's a universe in where the stars will realign – and maybe, just maybe, we might ultimately end up better off for it. 


Admit it: Leonard Nimoy looked alarmingly sexy with a beard.

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

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Future is Clean & Electric - No Need to Expand Ontario's Natural Gas Delivery System

The following was submitted as a Letter to the Editor of the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal.  It was published on Sunday, November 20th, online as: "Don't expand reach of natural gas."

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Re: “Natural gas: most important investment in rural Ontario,” letter to the Editor of the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, from Neil Currie, General Manager, Ontario Federation of Agriculture; November 12, 2016.

For Canada to meet international commitments made in Paris in 2015 - to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hold global warming at between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius – there must be a concerted effort to curb the use of all fossil energy.  In this new reality, there is no case that can be made for expanding the use of fossil fuels in preference to relatively clean electrical energy.  Ontario has invested heavily in expensive but clean nuclear power.  Recently, Ontario inked a deal with the Province of Quebec to import clean hydro-electricity.  With Ontario’s on-going investments in the renewable energy sector, and with the closure of coal-fired electrical generation plants, our province has been a leader in clean electricity.  However, more work needs to be done if Ontario is going to continue to do its part to help reduce emissions from dirty fossil fuels.

Real climate champions don’t build fossil fuel pipelines.  That’s the message being received by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Kathleen Wynne.  While fossil energy will continue to have a role to play in Ontario’s energy mix in coming decades, it must be one of decreasing importance over time.  Building new pipeline capacity for an expanded natural gas delivery system – one which is intended not just to compete with clean electrical energy, but in some cases to replace it – is just not in the cards. Those concerned about the climate crisis as I am sincerely hope that our leaders understand the new reality which Canadians find ourselves in.

While the price of natural gas may be low in comparison to electricity at the moment, keep in mind that it is artificially so thanks to the real costs of carbon pollution never having been included in the price tag.  In part, Ontario’s Cap & Trade program, which will put a price on carbon pollution, will begin to incorporate a small part of these costs – costs which are currently being paid for by taxpayers rather than by polluters.  When the price of carbon pollution rises to $50 a tonne, natural gas will look a lot less attractive as an inexpensive energy source.


The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is right to be concerned regarding rising energy prices experienced by all Ontarians – and especially by those living in rural areas.  However, in light of Canada’s climate change commitments – and indeed because of the very real crisis which climate change poses to our health and the well-being of our economy – the solution can’t be to travel back in time to the previous century and build more extensive fossil energy infrastructure which will only ultimately exacerbate the problem of climate change.  Clean, renewable, local electrical energy is the choice for the future – and it’s the only choice that our governments should be considering investing our hard-earned tax money in.

(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)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Misrepresentation of Greens’ Position on Trade Smacks of Desperation

The following has been submitted to the Sudbury Star in response to a column by Michael Den Tandt published in the print version of the Star (referenced below) and online elsewhere as, "CETA critics have distorted vision of Canadian economy," the National Post, October 27, 2016.  This submission was published on Saturday, November 5th as, "Column: Columnist misrepresents Greens' trade position"

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Recently, Postmedia columnist Michael Den Tandt took exception to Elizabeth May and the Green Party of Canada’s unrelenting opposition to CETA - the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement (“Canada-EU deal alive, to Greens’ dismay,” the Sudbury Star, Thursday, October 28, 2016). In his drive-by smear of May and the Green Party, Den Tandt left readers with the impression that Greens want to establish an agrarian society that looks like the Shire from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, if the Shire were run by Soviet Commissars.  Den Tandt appears to have used little of actual substance in support of this notion, citing only the Green Party’s continued opposition to pipelines and trade agreements.

Had Den Tandt bothered to read “Vision Green”, the Green Party’s in-depth policy and priority handbook (available online for over a decade), he might have been surprised to discover that Greens don’t actually oppose trade deals.  What the Green Party, and a growing number of other individuals and organizations take issue with are the corporate rights provisions that have been inserted into agreements, even though they have little to do with “free trade”.

The Green Party of Canada has always embraced the concept of “Fair Trade” – trade that emphasises national and regional sovereignty, human rights, and the environment.  Fair Trade doesn’t prioritise the rights of multi-national corporations over those of democratically elected governments and the people who produce the goods and services that fuel our globalized world.  Greens have long championed sustainable economic development that enhances our local quality of life as a priority over shifting local wealth into the hands of rich multinationals.

Fair trade is obviously a threat to the successive Liberal and Conservative governments that have bound and continue to bind Canada to trade agreements that are not fair or equitable.  Liberals and Conservatives both have embraced agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the recently signed CETA, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Green Party’s fundamental issue with these “free trade” agreements is the inclusion of investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, like NAFTA’s Chapter 11.  ISDS provisions take decision-making control out of the hands of democratically elected governments.  Secret corporate-appointed star chambers rule on how labour laws and environmental initiatives might infringe on corporate profits. Thanks to Chapter 11, Canada has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most-sued country through trade tribunals, with most actions initiated by corporations impacted by federal and provincial environmental regulations (see: "NAFTA's Chapter 11 Makes Canada Most-Sued Country Under Free Trade Tribunals," the Huffington Post, January 14, 2015.

Free trade obviously isn’t working out the way that many had hoped.  While there have been some undeniable successes, these have been offset by the growth of inequality through a widening of the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. Public opposition to these agreements is growing.   In an effort to confuse and mischaracterize, neo-liberal apologists use terms like “creeping protectionism” and “backlash against international trade” to suggest that their opponents want to shut down trade between nations. Denigration of their opponents’ arguments through fact-free commentary seeks to marginalize a sustainable economic narrative that runs counter to the flagging neo-liberal agenda.

Elizabeth May and the Green Party have always had a strong vision for a truly sustainable Canada.  It is a vision that obviously causes discomfort to those in power, wedded as they are to an economic system that poisons our environment and disenfranchises people. As we move further into the 21st Century, it’s going to become increasingly clear that on a planet of finite resources, the status quo of infinite growth simply can’t be sustained.  Greens, with the help of many others, have already acknowledged these limits to growth, and are moving forward by laying the foundations for an equitable and sustainable society.


(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)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Climate File Heats Up

“You can’t be a climate leader and build pipelines.”  In a moment of role reversal, that’s the message students will be delivering to teacher-turned-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when they descend on Parliament Hill next week.  In advance of a decision on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline (see: “Expect a Kinder Morgan Surprise from Trudeau’s Liberals,” Bill Tieleman, the Tyee, September 6, 2016), students from across Canada will be educating the Liberal government that the voice of millennials – along with their votes – shouldn’t be taken for granted (see: “Students to Trudeau: Climate leaders don’t approve pipelines,” Derrick O’Keefe, ricochet, September 21, 2016).

It’s been a dizzying month with climate-related headlines dominating the national newsmedia. Canadians have been inundated with talk of targets, taxes and treaties.  Elected officials and political pundits have offered opinions, spin, and in some cases, thoughtful analysis of proposed initiatives and government flip-flops.  The picture that’s starting to emerge is problematic.  Despite the government’s lofty rhetoric about “real change”, meaningful measures to slow the climate crisis are being offset by decisions that take us in the opposite direction – one where continuing conflict can be expected.

The Liberals have been engaged in a year-long process of backing away from their election campaign promises.  After going to Paris and signing on to a treaty to hold warming at 2 degrees Celsius, with an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees C proposed by Canada’s very own Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna (see: “COP21: Catherine McKenna endorses goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C,” CBC, December 8, 2016), the Liberals opted not to tinker with the National Energy Board hearings on the Trans Mountain bitumen pipeline (see: “NEB pipeline process a ‘sham’, Liberal plan not much better, Vancouver mayor says,” CBC, May 20, 2016).  Although promising more ambitious emissions reduction targets than those offered up by the previous Conservative government (see: “Liberals’ climate-change targets will be tougher than Tory version, McKenna vows,” the Ottawa Citizen, November 9, 2015), McKenna recently announced that the Liberals would instead be adopting Stephen Harper’s low-ball targets (see: “Liberals cave on climate - leaving weak Conservative targets in place,” the Green Party of Canada, September 19, 2016).

Just days before ratifying the Paris treaty, Trudeau dropped a carbon bomb in the form of federal approval for British Columbia’s fracked natural gas megaproject, which is destined to become the single largest greenhouse gas emitter in Canada (see: “Liberals approve controversial natural gas project on B.C. coast," the Toronto Star, September 27, 2016).  B.C.’s Pacific NorthWest LNG project was greenlighted after Trudeau backtracked on his platform promise of a social license requirement for communities impacted by energy development proposals (see: “Federal government’s ‘social license’ for pipeline ‘permission’ cuts out local communities,” the Vancouver Sun, September 21, 2016). Growing animosity between the federal Liberals and indigenous peoples has led to more than 50 First Nations from across North America signing a historic treaty aimed squarely at the tar sands (see: “Tribes Across North America Unite in a ‘Wall of Opposition’ to Alberta Tar Sands,” CommonDreams, September 22, 2016), and to legal challenges to the B.C. LNG approval (see: “First Nations split on Ottawa’s Pacific NorthWest LNG decision,” the Globe and Mail, September 16, 2016).

A small, but important step forward, was Trudeau’s announcement of a plan to compel the provinces to put a price on carbon pollution, or have the feds impose a carbon tax (see: “Trudeau says Canada to implement carbon tax,” the Associated Press, October 3, 2016).  However, the fed’s price – just $10 per tonne starting in 2018 - is woefully inadequate, and will not lead to any changes in consumer behaviour (see: "Don't fixate on carbon pricing: Mark Jaccard (updated)," Vancouver Business, September 21, 2016).

Putting a national carbon price, however, is the very least that Liberals could have done to show progress on the climate file.  Recent polls show that a national carbon price is popular, especially if it’s coupled with pipeline development (see: “Climate, Carbon and Pipelines: A Path to Consensus?” Abacus Data, October 18, 2016).  Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley has already insisted that her province will participate in the federal climate program only if the federal Liberals approve a new bitumen pipeline somewhere (see: “Rachel Notley says support for Trudeau carbon plan requires feds to act on pipelines,” Global News, October 9, 2016).

And here’s where the problems really start.  Bolstered by polls and blackmailed by friendly premiers, Trudeau might be thinking that his bare minimum approach to the climate crisis is social license enough to kickstart tar sands-expanding pipeline projects.  Of course, it all flies in the face of the best available science which clearly indicates that if we’re going to meet our Paris commitments, we’re going to have to leave dirty fossil fuels in the ground (see: “The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production,” Oil Change International, September 22, 2016).

That’s why you can’t be a climate leader and build pipelines. Trudeau’s final test of leadership may come as early as December.  If Trudeau approves Trans Mountain, he will shred the last little bit of credibility the Liberals have left on the climate file. 

(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, "The climate file heats up," in print and online as "Sudbury column: The climate file heats up," October 22, 2016, without hyperlinks.