Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Scratching the Surface: 21st Century Realities Can’t be Ignored by Ring of Fire Developers - Part 2

For the Ring of Fire, the good news is that the Provincial government and First Nations are now on a better course to figure out what, if any, development in the region makes sense, and how that development will impact and benefit aboriginal communities. Presuming that negotiations with First Nations lead to agreement, the next questions for development in the Ring of Fire must be whether and how it will make sense for the people of Ontario and Canada. And that’s a question of long-term sustainability.

Triple Bottom Line Cost Benefit Analysis

There are a lot of opinions about how development of the ROF will impact Ontarians and Canadians – and from where I’m sitting, most of those opinions range from “positive” to “glowing”. The Chamber of Commerce’s "Beneath the Surface" positions itself somewhere between those two terms. Certainly, the economic benefits of resource development can’t be ignored, and with every report like the Chamber’s which comes out in support of development, the public is sure to be convinced that this is an opportunity to which our governments just can’t say no to. Certainly, after having looked closely at information that is available, that’s how I currently feel about the Ring of Fire – and until other information enters the public realm which might change my opinion, I can’t help but be a booster for the ROF.

However, an analysis of projected benefits must also include an analysis of projected costs – and that’s where “Beneath the Surface” falls short. The costs of developing this industrial enterprise are barely addressed – and where there is talk of costs (for example, the costs of building a transportation corridor), those discussion are more about how costs will be shared between governments and industry. Quite frankly, with the significant level of analysis which the report delves into regarding economic benefit, the appalling lack of analysis on costs is, in my opinion, a glaring omission.

A real triple bottom line analysis of costs and benefits should have been a priority of governments and industry in order to determine whether this massive new industrial enterprise is really in the public interest. Although people like myself may have a hunch that the public interest is being served by development, it really is just a hunch. A careful analysis of benefits and costs (both direct and indirect) is needed. Badly.

Putting the Benefit Cart Before the Cost Horse

Back during the 2011 provincial election campaign, the four candidates here in the Sudbury riding had an opportunity to speak about the Ring of Fire and the development of a proposed chromite processing facility on lands outside of Capreol. Candidates for the 3 old line parties were eager to embrace the projects, and used information provided by the company, Cliffs, regarding jobs and economic benefit in support of their position. It was left to the Green Party of Ontario’s candidate, Pat Rogerson, to ask the tough questions about cost – only to find out that while some good work had been done around the economic benefits of the project, costs had been hardly addressed at all. As a result, the media in part portrayed Pat and the Green Party as anti-development, all because she wasn’t as eager to embrace a mega-project entailing significant (read: billions of dollars) of government investments for an unknown total return on that investment. While the other political parties might have been eager to embrace the project in the absence of data, it’s clear that those positions are irresponsible ones to adopt – especially for those seeking to become the protector of the public purse.

Fast-forward three years later, and we still have politicians from the old-line parties talking up the significant benefits of developing the Ring of Fire with little or no additional information about costs provided. We know that there will be costs, and we even know what some of those costs might pertain to. We also know that there will be costs that we don’t yet know about. Yet, the triumphal championing of the project continues – often followed by laments, such as those made by the Chamber of Commerce, that the project just isn’t moving forward fast enough, continue.

Transportation Corridor – Technical Data Must Inform Choice

Let’s take a quick look at some of the costs that we know about. Building a transportation and utilities corridor is sure to be one of those costs in which the government is going to be on the hook for at least part of the tab (if not all of it). Cliffs and NorOnt Resources are, after all, in the business of mining, not road or rail building. The very first decisions related to transportation will involve looking at roads vs. rail, and which corridor makes the most sense.

To inform decisions related to the transportation and utilities corridor, one might think that it would make sense to have baseline data about natural features, including heritage and hazard features. Any corridor will surely have to traverse a number of river systems and floodplains, for example. Further, we know that this area of the James Bay Lowlands includes significant woodland caribou habitat. Technical studies which assess impacts on natural heritage and hazards should inform any decisions about the location and type of transport and utilities corridor.

But wait, there’s more. As part of any triple bottom line analysis of costs and benefits, and in keeping with the realities of the 21st Century, a carbon assessment must also form part of any analysis. Burning carbon comes with a cost – not just the direct cost of vehicle transport fuels, but the cost of contributing pollution to our atmosphere. We know that globally, we can only put so much carbon into our atmosphere before enough accumulates to guarantee that we will blow through the internationally agreed on threshold of 2 degrees C. Enter the carbon budget.

Where Does the Ring of Fire Fit in Canada’s Carbon Budget?

Our Conservative federal government has decided to take a back seat to ROF development in a way that it hasn’t with the Alberta tar sands. Annual Canadian greenhouse gas emissions are not on target to meet our Copenhagen commitments, and indeed are expected to rise. All of the rise in Canadian emissions has to do with the expansion of the tar sands enterprise. Provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia have done their part (in Ontario’s case, more than its part) in reducing emissions, but all of those reductions are offset by the tar sands. Although there have been modest steps in reducing the intensity of emissions, the fact of the matter is that overall amount of carbon Canada pollutes our atmosphere with is going up, thanks to the tar sands.

Where does that leave other emissions-intensive industries, particularly new start-ups like the Ring of Fire (and B.C.’s liquid natural gas enterprise, for that matter)? If Canada decides that it must get serious to meet our Copenhagen commitments (which may happen under a different federal government, but clearly isn’t a concern of this government), tough decisions are going to have to be made regarding emissions. Along with deciding how best to put a price on carbon, discussions will surely revolve around who gets to pollute and how much. While negotiations between the federal and provincial governments are sure to be acrimonious, if we are to have a viable plan to do our national part to hold warming at 2 degrees C, there will be no option but to look at carbon budgeting.

With this in mind, the costs of carbon for a development enterprise such as the Ring of Fire will not be trivial, and indeed, they may form one of the fundamental overall costs associated with the project. Using our earlier example of a transportation corridor, it’s unavoidable to think that factoring carbon costs into the decision matrix isn’t a sensible way to proceed. Yet, I strongly suspect that our business and government leaders aren’t thinking carbon in this way.

That Matter of Electricity

And then there’s electricity. Ontario has one of the highest prices per kilowatt hour for electrical energy, thanks to previous government’s support of expensive nuclear power. Ontario ratepayers are still paying for the poor investment decisions made to build expensive nuclear infrastructure, and then to privatize some of that infrastructure. Today, the provincial government continues to intervene in the marketplace by subsidizing ratepayers with taxpayer dollars.

(Continued from Part 1...)

ROF businesses are right to be concerned about the costs of electricity, particularly when it comes to the value-added part of their proposals. Cliffs Natural Resources estimates that the processing facility they propose to locate near Capreol will use the same amount of power of a city of 300,000 inhabitants. That’s the energy price-tag of keeping value-added jobs in this province, however, and someone is going to have to pick up that tab.

Calls for Intervention in the Marketplace

In “Beneath the Surface”, the Chamber of Commerce calls for the Province to explore a cost-benefit analysis of a special electricity incentive so that value-added processing facilities can locate in Ontario. Besides finding it somewhat strange that an organization which purports to embrace capitalist economic practices calling on governmental intervention in the marketplace, it’s astounding to me that any organization would leap to the conclusion that cheap electricity must be the driving force behind locating processing facilities in the Province. There are other options which make more sense.

Special electricity rates for ROF developers mean that the actual costs of electricity will be picked up by other electrical ratepayers, or by taxpayers if the reduced rate is in the form of a government subsidy. Since ratepayers and taxpayers tend to be largely the same people (ie. you and me), that ultimately means that you and I are going to be paying for the electricity used by Cliffs and potentially other companies. Yes, there are sure to be economic benefits in the form of jobs and other spin-off activities, but I’d very much like to know more about the “how much?”. Indeed, should anybody bother to compile the data, it’s within the realm of possibility that ratepayers and taxpayers might actually be on the losing end of this electrical proposition.

Innovation, Not Subsidization

At a time when the calls for energy conservation are becoming all the more urgent, subsidized electrical rates really can’t be justified from an economic point of view. They must be considered the cost of doing business, and as a cost, they will drive business and industry to innovate (whereas there is certainly less of a need to change one’s habits when you’re receiving a subsidy). If there are concerns that no economic case can be made for establishing processing facilities in Ontario as a result of the cost of electricity (which the Chamber’s Report suggests), so be it – because first, I very much doubt that’s actually the case, and second, because the Province can still chip in and help in other ways (such as with the transport corridor).

Processing Our Resources Here

And finally, if there is such a concern that multinational companies will choose to process raw resources in other jurisdictions, there are changes which the Province can make to legislation to require that our natural resources be processed here. The Green Party, and to its credit, the NDP, have long championed changing the law so that what’s taken out of the ground in Ontario is processed here. Why the NDP failed to act on this policy plank of theirs over the 5 years that it governed the province back in the early 1990s, I don’t know. But the NDP surely does talk about this a lot, and good for them. It’s the right approach to keep well-paying value-added jobs in Ontario.

“Business as Usual” Doesn’t Work

Sustainability and social license must be at the heart of the new Ring of Fire industrial enterprise. Although business and industry, and some in the political world, have decried the pace of development, the fact is that “getting it right” takes some time – and if anything, the time which we have lost has been largely the result of the federal government moving the project in the wrong direction at the outset. Rather than initiating meaningful nation-to-nation dialogue with First Nations, the feds choose to sideline them, ensuring that the way forward would not include a social license for development, unless everything were to first to come to a halt – and even then, the ill-will created between governments and First Nations would need to be overcome.

The environmental assessment process required by the federal government was also a problem, due to its lack of comprehensive focus. Unlike the matter of social licence and First Nations, the environmental assessment issue is one which is still not being addressed, as companies are still following the same individual processes which look at only their own pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. No one is assessing the entirety of the puzzle. It’s a pretty sure bet that questions of sustainability and triple bottom line cost/benefits won’t be answered through this approach. Why the provincial government isn’t taking a bigger-picture look at these issues, which include climate change impacts, probably has a lot to do with how the old line political parties continue to refuse to acknowledge 21st Century realities.

In their “business as usual” approach, our governments are supported by organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, which for some strange reason thought that it was ok in the year 2014 to produce an economic analysis of the Ring of Fire which fails to even mention “climate change”. Ignoring the economic realities of climate change is, frankly, absurd. And, if implemented, the Chamber’s plan will put ROF development on a path which goes nowhere quickly.

Chamber Report Scratches the Surface

While providing some good information and ideas (along with one or two very bad ideas – see hovercraft, below), it’s fair to say that the Chamber of Commerce’s “Beneath the Surface” is an epic waste of time and effort which may ultimately do more damage to developing the Ring of Fire. The Ring of Fire Action plan proposed by the Chamber starts in the wrong place, fails to consider the current economic and social environment, and advocates for a plan which is certainly doomed to fail – one which already has failed.

I will say it again: the starting point to any development proposal for the Ring of Fire must be real nation-to-nation negotiations. Until agreement can be reached between First Nations and the governments of Ontario and Canada, there is little to be gained by barging forward in the way the Chamber suggests. Yet, the Chamber urges the provincial government to move forward with infrastructure planning and subsidizing electricity as its priorities to getting the ROF back on track. First Nations agreement will only be afterwards, through some sort of needs-based assessment. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe that mutually beneficial agreements between First Nations communities and industry will prove to be good things – but the role in which First Nations are expected to take in the Chamber’s analysis does not fit the nation-to-nation reality, and can only be considered as a mechanism to further sideline First Nations.

The federal government tried that approach, was called out on it by First Nations, and ultimately it has led to failure and lost time. We can’t afford to go down that road again. But instead of urging governments and First Nations to come to an agreement as a first step, we have instead the Chamber of Commerce suggesting that short term infrastructure can be developed on mine sites deep in the James Bay Lowlands using hovercraft to ferry construction materials!

Sustainable Development vs. The Wild West Approach

And that brings us back to the notion of sustainable development – the other 21st Century economic reality which “Beneath the Surface” massively misses. Not only is there no discussion around carbon costs (or much discussion about costs of any kind), the natural environment is largely treated as an obstacle to be overcome by development – something which, along with the red-tape of environmental regulations and the Far North Act, stands in the way of moving forward now. This type of attitude might have been commonplace in the 20th Century (although certainly not in the latter part of that century, as “Beneath the Surface” seems to acknowledge in its call for the removal of environmental regulations which made sense “20 years ago” but apparently don’t today), but it has no place in developing a truly sustainable economy – which is what we must do if we are going to hold warming at 2 degrees C.

I sincerely hope that the Provincial government does not heed the advice offered by the Chamber of Commerce on a way forward for the development of the Ring of Fire. The current government, which has finally got serious about negotiating with First Nations and obtaining a social license for at least part of the development proposal, probably won’t. But with an election on the horizon, and a possible change in government, it’s not at all clear that the Chamber’s suggestions might not find resonance with at least one other political party. Certainly Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives have called for a similar plan of action for the ROF – and have even called the ROF “Ontario’s oil sands” because somehow they believe that’s a good thing.

If the plan to develop the ROF proceeds the same way that the tar sands enterprise has, woe be to Ontario, and woe be to Canada – for there has been very little in the way of planning in Alberta at all. That might have been a little more accepted not long ago, but in the new realities of the 21st Century, we simply can’t afford a “wild west” development scenario for the ROF. We can’t let it happen because such a development scenario will ultimately cost us more and doom the ROF because it lacks a social license with First Nations. It should not be pursued because in pursuing runaway development, choices will be made which ignore carbon economics and which will ultimately add unsustainable long-term costs to the enterprise – costs which will likely be borne by the public purse for generations.

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

Scratching the Surface: 21st Century Realities Can’t be Ignored by Ring of Fire Developers - Part 1

As we find ourselves getting deeper into the 21st Century, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the old ways of doing business just aren’t workable in the “new” realities of today. Yet, business and industry leaders, along with governments, continue to muddle through, largely clinging to economic models which are starting to be unworkable. Here in Canada, this is becoming glaringly obvious to all who are closely watching developments of resource extractive industries. The 21st Century challenges to tar sands industrial expansion may be the best known, but certainly other non-renewable resource-based industries are also finding traditional ways forward to be increasingly difficult, in part due to a lack of desire to acknowledge or address new realities.

First Nations

These “new” 21st Century realities include a change in relationships between governments and First Nations. Decisions made by the Supreme Court of Canada reasserted the rights of First Nations to be treated on a “nation to nation” basis with regards to negotiations with the federal and provincial governments. What we have seen has been a fundamental shift in the starting point of any discussion regarding resource extraction in Canada. Yet, largely, this new reality hasn’t yet sunk in with industry and government representatives, who continue to want to dive into business opportunities without first consulting with nations on whose traditional territory the resource is located.

Industries are used to dealing with one or two governments, and have little or no experience in dealing directly with aboriginal peoples as “nations”. Our governments, too, are used to telling First Nations what’s best for them, and at most, sitting down to draw up agreements about how the benefits of resource extraction will be shared. What is new is the notion that Frist Nations might have their own idea about the starting point – whether extracting the resource makes sense from their point of view. Recently, the Elsipogotog First Nation in New Brunswick made national headlines when members came together in a decision to tell the provincial government and industry that they were not interested in having resources fracked within their traditional territory, and no number of benefit-sharing agreements were going to change their mind.

Carbon Economics

Another new reality of the 21st Century has to do with the economics of carbon, and fossil fuels which are the primary power source for much of our global industrial infrastructure. The international community, through the Copenhagen Accord, has committed to holding global warming at a 2 degrees Celsius threshold. Maintaining this commitment will require substantial carbon reserves to stay safely sequestered in the ground. Coal, bitumen and natural gas reserves cannot be exploited to their full potential – not if we are to keep warming below the 2 degree C threshold.

Yet, even with conservation measures, our energy needs will still be significant. In the new reality, it is essential that we begin building the infrastructure which transitions our economy from polluting fossil fuels to clean renewables. This isn’t just a semantic argument about the need to meet an international obligation – it’s a necessary initiative in order to stave off long-term economic collapse. The costs of ignoring climate change will be a burden which our children won’t be able to afford to pay.

In broader terms, these two 21st Century realities form part of larger pictures around “social license” and “sustainability” – two concepts which development of any sort must address if it is to be successful.

The Ring of Fire

Here in Ontario, a large deposit of chromite exists in the remote James Bay Lowlands, in an area known as the Ring of Fire (ROF). Chromite is the primary ingredient of steel, and while chromite itself is not a fossil fuel, significant amounts of energy are required to mine and process it so that it can be used to make stainless steel. The remote location of the ROF also means that there are significant infrastructure challenges to resource extraction, as transportation and utility connections don’t currently exist. And of course, First Nations in the area have their own ideas about what resource extraction might mean for their interests.

Ontario’s Liberal provincial government has been the subject of a lot of criticism by opposition Progressive Conservative and New Democratic parties regarding what appears to be the glacial pace of development in the ROF. Yet, calls for putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, are not going to assist with moving this important development project along. Too often, political and business leaders have fallen into the trap of ignoring the 21st Century realities we are currently living with. Their proposed solutions appear to be mined from policy papers written decades ago, at a time when First Nations weren’t empowered, and climate change was a fringe issue.

“Beneath the Surface”

Last week, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, released with much fanfare a proposed “way forward” for development of the Ring of Fire. Entitled, “Beneath the Surface: Uncovering the Economic Potential of Ontario’s Ring of Fire”, the report has been long in the making. In developing the report, the Chambers of Commerce consulted with industry experts, government officials, business leaders, First Nations and mining experts. The report is written in a very accessible format, and highlights the importance that this industrial enterprise represents to all of Ontario (and not just the north).

The report’s economic analysis leads to the conclusion that development of the ROF will generate up to $9.4 billion for Ontario’s GDP in the first 10 years, along with nearly $2 billion in government revenues. Over a 32 year period, the report indicates that the ROF may contribute as much as $27 billion to GDP, and generate as much as $6.7 billion in tax revenue for governments. The report looked at two scenarios, one labelled “conservative” which assessed the impacts of only the two projects which have been leading the way (Cliff’s Chromite Project, and NorOnt Resource’s Eagle’s Nest), and the other “optimistic”, which included a number of other currently identified commercially viable projects. However, it may very well be that even the “optimistic” scenario might not prove optimistic enough, should investments in infrastructure mean that additional deposits can be commercially exploited.

In short, there is clearly a lot of money lying dormant beneath the surface of the lowlands.

I’m not an economist, so I’ll accept the Chambers findings related to direct, indirect and induced economic activity and the multiplier effect they’ve used to calculate their figures. Generally speaking, the Chamber’s analysis appears to be in keeping with other projections regarding economic benefit which have been floating around out there in the media (and if anything, the Chamber’s numbers might be on the low side). That there is a tremendous amount of wealth residing in the ROF is clear, and that the extraction of this wealth could lead to significant economic benefit for First Nations, Ontario and Canada.

Finding a Way Forward

Yet, for the past several years, the development of this industrial enterprise has gone badly wrong, and little progress has been made to move the ball forward. One of the major players, Cliffs Natural Resources, has even suspended operations in the ROF, leaving their project in limbo. While Cliffs has been quick to cite a lack of action on the part of the government for idling its chromite project, there may be more at play internally with Cliffs own economic situation. Nevertheless, Cliffs is certainly not alone in suggesting that governments, and particularly Ontario’s Liberal government, instead of carrying the ball forward, has fumbled it significantly.

Things have started to change, though. Last year, the government of Ontario appointed former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci to work with the Matawa First Nations negotiator, former Federal Liberal Interim Leader and MP Bob Rae. Why it has taken so long for serious nation-to-nation consultations to occur remains a bit of a mystery to me, but I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the notions of the past continuing to influence the actions of stakeholders, rather than acknowledging the realities of the present.

The Conservative Federal Government and the Lost Years

Development of the ROF really was off the rails from the moment it began. While the Province of Ontario might have been taking steps towards facilitating resource development through the adoption of the Far North Act (which lays out the specifics for regional planning and development), the Conservative government of Canada’s intransigence towards working with First Nations and the environmental community led Cliffs down a windy, tortured passage where they eventually ended up in front of a court, listening to lawyers argue the merits of one process over another.

Cliffs Chromite project is subject to a federal Environmental Assessment process which, thanks in part to anti-environmental omnibus budget legislation passed by the Conservatives during the first years of their majority mandate, has proved to be a disruptive endeavour. The EA process has never been inclusive when it comes to First Nations – and indeed, it was the wrong place to start for that very reason. Further, the EA process as authorized by an anti-environment government, allowed Cliffs’ project to proceed in isolation of other planned ROF projects, which has meant that the overall cumulative environmental impacts from ROF development would never be comprehensively assessed.

What the Conservatives did was to choose a puzzle off the shelf (without first consulting First Nations partners as to whether the puzzle itself was a good choice, or even if they wanted to help put it together), and then commit to looking at individual puzzle pieces only, rather than the picture that those pieces would create when put together. This kind of backward-thinking on the part of our federal government was the primary reason that years were lost to the development of the ROF industrial enterprise.

What’s the Problem with Wealth-Creating Development?

In our 21st Century reality, nation-to-nation consultation ought to have been the starting point of any discussion around the Ring of Fire. Up until recently, First Nations have largely been treated as an important afterthought – a primary stakeholder for the project’s success, beyond doubt, but still a secondary consideration for the project. But the question of whether or not the project itself was a worthy one to pursue was just never one that was asked by industry and government. The assumption has always been that if a case can be made for economic growth, any resource extractive opportunity must, therefore, be a benefit. Why would anybody not want to create wealth?

And those same parochial points of view continue to be held by many in government and business. Whether it’s pushing a pipeline through an area to facilitate the transport of raw bitumen, or the development of fracked natural gas wells, as long as base environmental issues can be addressed, the question about “what’s the problem?” is never asked, time and again.

But whether wealth-generating development really makes sense in the context of 21st Century realities is the fundamental question that the developers of all non-renewable resource extraction initiatives should be asking themselves. Importantly, they should be asking First Nations as well in the form of nation-to-nation negotiations. Sometimes, making money in the short term simply isn’t a good enough reason for a project to move forward – at least not for all impacted parties. The failure to recognize both the economic value of natural capital and the will of indigenous peoples to play a significant role in the decision-making affecting their traditional lands and resources located within has led to many of the issues today being experienced by extractive resource industries. Whether it’s Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, fracking in New Brunswick, or Ontario’s Ring of Fire, these issues are coming up time and again. Why not try to address them rather than to pretend that they aren’t legitimate issues?

(continued in Part 2…)

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2015: Thinking About a Modest Success for the Green Pary of Canada

In 2011, the good people of Saanich-Gulf Islands in British Columbia voted to elect Canada’s first Member of Parliament from the Green Party. Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, has been an inspiration for all of those who run under the Green banner at federal, provincial and municipal levels in this country. This past May, British Columbians again elected a single Green – Andrew Weaver - this time to the B.C. provincial legislature. Although it’s happening slowly, Greens are showing that they can be elected in Canada, even under our archaic First Past the Post electoral system.

Many in the Green Party had hoped that Elizabeth May might be joined by more MP’s prior to the scheduled 2015 federal election. Two Green candidates had major breakthroughs in by-elections in Victoria (Donald Galloway – finishing second) and Calgary Centre (Chris Turner – a close 3rd) in late 2012. Greens put our hope in Deputy Party Leader and former NHL tough-guy Georges Laraque to lead the Party to victory in a by-election in Bourassa, but after a long summer of campaigning, Laraque was forced to drop out of the race just days before the by-election was called, in order to devote his time to deal with unexpected fraud charges brought on by the collapse of a business deal.

In December, 2013, Elizabeth May was joined by Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer, who had formerly sat as an Independent after leaving the NDP’s caucus in 2012. Since then, Hyer has been appointed Deputy party leader, and has been named the Green Party’s Democratic Reform critic. With a little under two years between now and the 2015 election, might May and Hyer be joined by others in the House? So far, yet-to-be-announced by-elections which must take place this year will be in ridings where Greens haven’t done particularly well in the past.

With each passing day, it’s becoming clearer that the Green Party might be going into the 2015 general election with just two seats - which isn’t bad at all, considering that the Party is still very new to parliament. The Green Party’s challenges are different from the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP – more modest as a result of our size, resources and past history. With this in mind, how then, might the Green Party find a path to modest success? What would modest success even look like for the Green Party in 2015?

Mike Schreiner and Ontario

There are some factors which might help the Green Party of Canada before the 2015 election which are worth exploring prior to discussing a way forward for the GPC. Here in Ontario, we will likely have had a general election before the next federal election, and it could very well be that Ontario voters choose to elect our first Green MPP. Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner has been actively campaigning in the Green-friendly riding of Guelph in the southwestern part of the Province. With a minority government here, which could fall at any time, Schreiner and the GPO have taken a pro-active approach to campaigning, with the hopes that by the time the government falls, they will have made inroads with voters in Guelph. With the sorry state of politics here in Ontario, I believe that Schreiner has an excellent shot of getting elected – but he’s going to need some help from Greens throughout Canada.

And beyond Mike Schreiner, the provincial election in Ontario will give Greens an excellent opportunity to wage aggressive campaigns in a few ridings. Admittedly, the chances for success elsewhere are slim (unless candidates with significant local name recognition step forward). However, winning isn’t the point. Building local organizations from the ground up and mounting a get out the vote campaign will build transferrable skills and knowledge in local riding organizations, so that when 2015 does come around, Greens in Ontario will be better prepared to participate in the national campaign in key ridings (and here I’m thinking of other southwestern Ontario ridings like Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound and Dufferin).

David Coon and New Brunswick

The Province of New Brunswick will be heading into a general election in the fall of 2014. Green Party of New Brunswick Leader David Coon will be contesting the newly created Fredericton South district. Although the NDP have been polling relatively well in New Brunswick provincially, unlike Ontario, the NDP hasn’t really experienced a great deal of success in the province. Currently, the provincial NDP holds no seats in the provincial legislature. A canny and experienced veteran like Coon stands a good chance of finding his way into the provincial legislature – but like Schreiner in Ontario, he may need a little help from his friends.
I’m pretty sure that Greens from coast to coast will be hearing all about the ways we can assist Coon and the New Brunswick Greens at the Green Party of Canada’s Biennial General Convention, scheduled to start on July 18th at the University of New Brunswick’s campus in Fredericton.

While electing Greens to provincial parliaments might not seem like it would help the Green Party of Canada (after all, unlike the NDP, Green provincial parties and the federal party are not affiliated), the fact is that success at the provincial level almost assuredly would be great news for the GPC. The more that the Green Party can show Canadians that it is electable – and a mainstream part of political discussions – the better off we’ll be.


As with the GPO and GPNB, realistically there are likely only a limited number of ridings which the Green Party of Canada will find itself with a decent chance in. That’s not to say that running for the Green Party in the vast majority of Canadian ridings will prove to be a lost cause. Election campaigns can produce unexpected results, and the right candidate in the right location at the right time could end up getting themselves elected despite the odds. Look no further than to the majority of the NDP’s MP’s from Quebec, who were surprised to wake up on the morning after the last general election to discover that they’d be moving to Ottawa.

But we can’t plan for the unexpected. We can only plan for the most likely. So let’s set out a realistic course of action which will see Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer returned to parliament, and joined by a caucus of Greens after the 2015 general election.

First, the Party must identify what it considers to be the ridings which afford the best opportunities for the Green Party. Past experience might play some role in this, but it’s not always definitive. I think it’s fair to say that there are no “safe” Green ridings in Canada – and likely not many which are realistically winnable for the Greens. Suggesting that a riding might not be winnable is not to belittle the Party in any way – it’s just to indicate that another party or perhaps several parties with strong ties and a longer history (and more money!) are likely to make many ridings a challenge for Greens to win. That doesn’t mean, however, that any riding should ever be written off. Indeed, the groundwork for future Green success throughout Canada needs to be laid now – in fact, in many ridings, the foundations for success were laid in the past decade’s elections.

The 2015 election will offer Greens a great opportunity to really build local capacity, especially in many of those unwinnable ridings. The goal here will be more than just showing the flag or even rallying the troops for the 35-day writ period. It will be to identify longer-term supporters and introduce key volunteers to the workings of the Party at the local level and beyond, with the desire to build stronger, more sustainable local teams of Greens. With the phasing out of the per-vote subsidy, stronger Electoral District Associations (EDA’s) will have to step up in the near future with local fundraising initiatives, supporter identification, and general organizational capacity building.

And a stronger Green presence in the House of Commons is almost certainly going to motivate local Greens across the nation!


Sometimes, the personalities involved in a particular race (or not involved, if a strong incumbent has stepped down) will tell a part of the story of a potentially successful riding. Should a “star candidate” come forward, wanting to run for the Green Party in 2015, it’s almost certain that whatever riding they end up running in will become a priority for the Party.
Not that I’m holding my breath that David Suzuki will run for the Green Party!

However, there are others who are engaged with climate change who may look to the Greens as the only party offering a realistic and hopeful vision of the future (because it’s true – we are the only party with that on offer – read my numerous earlier blogs for an explanation as to why that’s so). It could be that a “star candidate” decides that she or he want to join Elizabeth May in changing the way that politics are done in Canada. Or perhaps there are other well-known climate scientists out there, like Andrew Weaver, who are fed up with government inaction, and want to take the bull by the horns.

This is in no way to suggest that I believe only climate scientists should run for the Green Party! Excellent candidates will assuredly come from a host of different backgrounds. By singling out climate scientists, though, I am suggesting that the Green Party may wish to do the same: single out climate scientists. For although Green candidates ought not all be climate scientists, all climate scientists who wish to pursue election to the House of Commons ought to be Greens, in my opinion. But again, the pursuit of star candidates from different backgrounds is extremely important.

Indeed, the Green Party should be actively looking for star candidates. I’m sure that’s already underway. But the Party shouldn’t be limiting itself to national personalities. Strong, well-known local leaders may also present certain star-like opportunities for the Party. Certainly, I could think of one or two here in Sudbury who could mount a decent campaign if they chose to throw their hat in the ring. Candidate recruitment of locally well-known individuals must be a priority of grassroots EDA’s.

Of course, to an extent, the Green Party will have trouble recruiting star candidates, because our lack of past electoral success. If you’re a star and you really do want to go to Ottawa as an MP, it’s not really clear that the Green Party represents the best vehicle to take you there (even though we’re the only zero-carbon choice!). For example, in the recent by-election in Toronto-Centre, I couldn’t help but scratch my head in wonder that Linda McQuaig had decided to run under the banner of Tom Mulcair’s NDP. Now, I understand that McQuaig has always been a supporter of the NDP, but the fact is that Mulcair’s NDP is not the NDP of 10 years ago – it’s not Ed Broadbent’s or Alexa McDonough’s NDP. Based on the pieces written by McQuaig that I've read, almost certainly she would be a better fit in the Green Party. Certainly she wouldn’t have to worry about answering to the Party Whip had she joined the Greens.

Local Strengths

That being said, the right candidate in the right riding could spell success for the Green Party. All political parties tend to match resources with expectations (just that the Green Party has both modest expectations and resources), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Party will endeavour to focus on certain ridings. Those ridings are likely to be found in the expected areas of Vancouver and Vancouver Island (where Greens have been elected and continue to poll well), along with Southwestern Ontario (where Greens have done well in the past, and could do well again in places like Guelph).

The 2015 redistribution of ridings is also almost certainly going to create some opportunities for Greens.


I’ll offer one last area where Greens probably could find some advantage: the city of Calgary. Greens have done pretty well in Calgary in the past (relatively speaking), and with Chris Turner’s energized by-election run, coupled with a lack of NDP and Liberal presence in Calgary (again, relatively speaking), Greens could challenge for seats throughout Calgary, particularly if voters start to search for alternatives to the Conservative Party (and I suspect they just might do that). The Liberals and the NDP have some ground-strength in Calgary, but in comparison to many parts of Canada, both the NDP and Liberals are weaker there. Surely the NDP is going to be writing-off much of Alberta as unwinnable, and choosing to focus their energies and resources elsewhere. The Liberals might make a serious play for ridings in Calgary and Edmonton, but it just might be that the Greens can prove more attractive to forward-looking urban Albertans than the Liberals.

Of course, the Party’s chances in Calgary would be bolstered by the presence of Chris Turner himself. Turner is a well-known journalist who mounted a campaign which caught the attention of the national media. Rumours have it that Turner may not contest the Calgary Centre riding again, particularly should a respected friend of his run for the Liberal Party there. Of course, Turner’s home is located in the new riding (and therefor incumbentless) of Calgary-Confederation, so it might be a story of one door shutting and another opening.

Other Parts of Canada to Keep an Eye On

Saskatchewan, too, may create some opportunities for Greens in the urban areas of Regina and Saskatoon, thanks in part to redistribution. While a resurgent Liberal Party on the prairies can’t be ignored, if a quality candidate can be found, there may be an opportunity for the Party there too.

Ridings along the shore of Lake Ontario between Toronto and Newcastle may also prove fertile ground for the Party, as might certain ridings in New Brunswick around Fredericton and Moncton – particularly if high-profile candidates step forward. The eastern part of the GTA has long been Conservative territory, with the Liberals the only party to mount a credible threat outside of Oshawa. A strong Green candidate in Ajax-Pickering or Whitby-Oshawa, or even Peterborough for that matter, could make things interesting.

And then there’s the Yukon. If popular Whitehorse municipal councillor (and former President of the Green Party of Canada) John Streicker decides to contest the Territory on behalf of the Greens again, the outcome might be different next time around.

Again, though, if the right candidate stepped up to the plate, many of Canada’s ridings could prove to be places where Greens could mount successful challenges.

Ground Games

To mount a successful challenge will require a good ground game – that means volunteers, organization and money. In the 2012 by-elections in Victoria and Calgary Centre, all three were present as part of a Green campaign. What was lacking, however, was any substantive pre-writ organizing, given that by-elections were called not long after MP’s had signalled they’d be stepping down. Turner probably had the most lead time – I don’t think that Donald Galloway was nominated all that much before the by-election in Victoria was called.

Given that we know the date of the 2015 election, it stands to reason that in the ridings which we wish to be effective, nominations will be held throughout 2014 – thus giving local Green campaigns a chance to rally around a candidate. It’s important for Greens, I think, to be the first into the fray – to signal to opponents that we’re going to be the ones to beat. I don’t have a problem with putting all of our cards on the table as early as possible, because it really gives voters something to consider. The other parties like to hold things back – policy and platform in particular. One of the things which attracted me to the Green Party in the first place is the fact that Green Party has always made policy documents available to the public through the internet. The contents of Vision Green aren’t a secret. So why not go all in, sooner rather than later?

Successful local campaigns will take advantage of the pre-writ lead up to the general election, and canvass their guts out. Door-knocking remains important – and for that, you need volunteers and co-ordination. Identifying supporters and potential voters is important, for when the writ does drop, you’re going to want to be able to count on the people you’ve already spoken with to come out and cast a ballot – or help out with the campaign. Greens don’t do enough of the pre-writ campaigning, in my opinion – but often that’s also true with the other parties, who seem content to rely on paid advertising between elections to get the message out. Our party’s modestness in many parts of Canada can create some significant pre-writ challenges for sure.

I’m looking for Green electoral district associations to start nominating candidates in 2014 – and I’m hoping that a few EDA’s will nominate a few stars, like Andrew Weaver. Goodness knows that there are a number of frustrated climate scientists in Canada – I hope that a few of them will decide to take a run for office under the Green Party’s banner. I can think of one or two who really should.

A Modest Success

At the end of e-day, how will the Green Party know if we’ve experienced modest success? I don’t think that there’s any magic number of MP’s which we’re going to have to elect in order to lay claim to the modest success mantle. It may be more of a question of knowing it if and when we see it. Some have suggested that ballooning the Party to 12 MP’s should be considered “success”, as this number of MP’s currently bestows Official Party status on a caucus. Of course, this may be changed by parliament after the 2015 election, in part to recognize an expanded legislature, but also perhaps in part to prevent the Green Party from becoming an official party.

I’d rather wait and see the extent of my party’s ambition pre-writ. By that I mean I’d like to see how successful we, as a Party, want to be in the 2015 election. If a number of star candidates step forward, if local EDA’s have been engaging with voters and raising money – these are the signs which will show me the extent of our ambition. Since a Party’s ambition should always exceed its grasp, my own measure will likely be somewhat less than the sum of our ambition – at that time, I may be able to identify a specific number of ridings to win, or perhaps the ridings themselves. A “modest success” is sure to be found somewhere between ambition and the status quo.
A “modest success” is certainly a reasonable pursuit for the Green Party in 2015.

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Zero-Carbon Ring of Fire

Picture this: You’re riding a silent, electrically-powered railway northward into the heart of Ontario’s largest industrial project, the Ring of Fire. Occasionally, the landscape of trees and rocks is interrupted by one or two wind turbines or ground-mounted solar arrays. As you near the end of the line, you can see that the ore processing facility looks as if it were on fire, thanks to the thousands of solar panels affixed to just about every building surface. Here, chromite and other minerals are being extracted and processed in the world’s first zero-carbon mining project, deep in the heart of the James Bay lowlands.

Impossible? Hardly. Impractical? Not at all. A zero-carbon mining project would be good for the environment and for job creation. Sustainable, net-zero development may be the only option for “getting things right” in the Ring of Fire as we go deeper into the 21st Century, thanks to Canada having taken a back-seat on climate change reduction initiatives.

The 2009 Copenhagen Accord recognized the need to hold global warming at no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report established a global carbon budget for burning of fossil fuels up to the year 2100 – a budget which must be followed to keep warming below the 2 degrees C threshold. If warming continues beyond 2 degrees C, we risk triggering positive feedback loops which could lead to runaway climate change. To remain within budget, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves must remain buried in the ground.

Canada, one of the world’s worst per capita producers of greenhouse gas emissions, is on track to exceed our extremely weak 2020 emissions reductions targets. Real gains made at reducing emissions, such as closing Ontario’s coal plants, have been offset by the expansion of tar sands developments in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Without a national energy strategy, there is no compelling mechanism in place which parcels out our carbon budget based on provincial needs. Right now, each province pursues its own emissions reduction strategy in isolation of its neighbours – with the result that emissions from Alberta and Saskatchewan will continue to skyrocket and eclipse reductions made in each and every province.

And that spells bad news for the Ring of Fire. There is no question that successful resource extraction in Ontario’s remote northwest will be energy-intensive. The energy needs of First Nations and other communities are also expected to expand, as they become service hubs for development in the Ring. Yet, with Canada’s carbon budget being rapidly taken up by tar sands expansion, by the time that real infrastructure development in the James Bay lowlands occurs, there may be no other choice for the Ring of Fire than to go green.

The timing, however, for going green, might be just right. Distributive energy systems, powered by renewables and based on smart-grid technology, are just now coming online in Europe. Renewable energy is the world’s fastest growing industry, and local-scale distribution means that energy can be bought and sold by small and medium-scale producers, such as Ring of Fire miners and First Nations energy co-operatives. With northwestern Ontario offering a blank slate for development, the Ring of Fire is a real opportunity to do things right the first time.

A profitable, job-creating, zero-carbon future is a very realistic goal for the sustainable development of the Ring of Fire. “Getting it right” must involve building the low-carbon distributive energy smart-grid and electric transportation infrastructure for prosperity in the 21st Century.


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

Originally published in the Sudbury Star, Saturday February 2, 2014, as "A zero-carbon Ring of Fire is needed" (online Friday, February 1, 2014.