Monthly Archives: July 2006

Canada in the Middle (East)

It’s hard to know where to begin. It’s hard to know where this began.

Last night, watching Canada’s bungled evacuation attempt on TV was frustrating. Despite what Peter MacKay says, we’ve done a much worse job of evacuating our citizens than other countries. To be fair, that doesn’t make anything about this easy, and I could almost give our government the benefit of the doubt if it weren’t for reports today that “Sandra Buckler, Director of Communications in the Prime Minister’s Office, is said to have issued an edict ordering that the Lebanon crisis be kept under wraps.”

Maybe these guys should have looked up transparency and accountability in a dictionary before building a whole campaign around those words.

Even more objectionable, for me, is Harper’s departure from traditional Canadian neutrality, towards something that resembles the American position. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time to take sides. During elections, for example. But let’s keep our eyes on the prize; the objective here is peace. And the best way for Canada to help advance that goal is to act as a voice of mediation. Taking sides is a bad strategy because it removes that possibility, hurting our ability to reach the objective.

Unfortunately, the editorial in today’s Globe And Mail supported Harper, mostly because they were bored and wanted to hear something different (“Mr. Harper did something unusual and refreshing”) , and because Hezbollah started it (“Hezbollah was primarily responsible for starting the fighting and must be primarily responsible for ending it”). This amounts to schoolyard “he hit me first” politics. If only it were that simple. And if only anyone could decisively say who “started it.”

If only we knew where the violence began. If only we knew where peace will begin.

Where the editorial went next really surprised me. “There is a world of difference,” the Globe And Mail continued, “between those who deliberately kill to make mischief and those who kill in response.”

Really? Last I checked, you’re dead either way. And I don’t know of any Canadian law that makes a distinction between “mischief killing” and “response killing.” I wonder if the Globe would apply the same logic to the streets of Toronto. I wonder if they teach their children that “two wrongs make a right.”

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Canada Changing

If you haven’t heard of WorldChanging, you should check it out. It’s a positive, solutions-based blog, primarily about environmental and other issues regarding our collective survival.

I mention it today because they’ve just started a short series called CanadaChanging, where they’ll be looking at the progress our country is making. Or, as they put it, “Canada, while by no means a global leader in sustainability overall, does have enough candles burning to be worth a look.”

Oh stop, you’re making us blush.

It’s interesting to note that a recent poll “identified global warming, the environment, pollution and the need for new energy technologies as leading concerns for Canadians.” In contrast, only 10% of respondents ranked health care as the number one challenge for Canada in the near future.

Now here’s the million dollar question: If most Canadians believe that the climate crisis is our greatest challenge, how come we elected a government that didn’t even use the word “climate” or the phrase “global warming” in their entire election platform?

To be honest, I’m a little baffled (though I do have one or two theories that likely have something to do with it).

Please Stop Keeping Your Promises

As a form of entertainment, I subscribe to the e-newsletters of the status quo parties. Seriously, it can actually be funny. Like this week, when the NDP Conservative parties swapped election slogans. (The NDP sent out an email promising to “Stand Up for Canada” while the Conservatives are now getting “real results,” presumably for “real people.”) Maybe it’s some kind of exchange program.

Anyway, the latest Conservative email highlights three of their kept promises. Reader willing, I’d like to deal with them seriatim.

1. GST Cut
I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, because there’s no shortage of economists who recognize that cutting consumption tax (as opposed to income tax) is bad economic policy, including the IMF and the OECD (not to mention the powerful Tim Hortons Think Tank). Our individual savings will be insignificant, and the GST cut is worth more to those with high-income.

Where cutting sales tax increases consumption (which is another way of saying increases the rate at which we take stuff from the Earth and turn it into waste), cutting income tax encourages saving and investment. You can then apply those income tax cuts to resource consumption, which discourages waste and inefficiency. In short, that’s what the we mean by “green tax shift.” (Unfortunately, the government has also raised income tax, so they’re doing the exact opposite.)

At the Rosedale United Church debate during the last election I was asked to explain our green tax shift policy, and in response the Conservative candidate said that he felt it was generally a good idea and that it was something his government would support. Either he didn’t understand my party’s platform or his own — I’m not sure which.

2. Increased Military Funding
I actually do think our military has been neglected for too long. For example, we still have it in our head’s that we’re the world’s peacekeepers, when in reality we’re not even in the top ten. And if we want to ask Canadians to put their lives on the line, the least we can do is make sure they have the tools they need to do the job.

Unfortunately, the Conservative plan gets the priorities for military spending all wrong. The plan’s two most expensive items by far are $8.3 billion for airlift capability, and $4.7 billion for 16 helicopters. The first item refers to the purchase of some heavy-lift aircraft used in transporting our troops and equipment around the world. The reason it’s a bad idea is because we’ve been able to rent our transport needs for a fraction of the cost. It’s a bit like buying a car instead of renting, even though you only use it to go to the cottage a few times a year. It’s not an effective use of military resources.

The second item is even less wise, since helicopters are primarily used to fight submarines. And you don’t have to be a military expert to know that submarines are probably not the number one threat to Canada right now.

Instead, we should be focusing on building a strong army capable of intervening in places like Darfur. We also might want to look into measures to protect our water, and give some thought to what the world’s going to look like when the phenomenon of eco-refuge really starts to take off.

3. Transit Pass Tax Credit
This isn’t a bad idea (it was actually part of our platform as well), but in a vacuum of any other action is almost useless.

Here’s the problem. Public transit is already almost the cheapest way to get around (second only to biking or walking), while driving is almost the most expensive (second only to being carried around by four professional football players on a sedan chair made of gold). The monthly parking rate in my office building is around $470 (almost 5x the cost of a TTC metropass), and people drive single-occupancy SUVs and mini-vans to work everyday. Once you’ve paid for the car, insurance, and gas, you’re looking at over $1000/month to drive to work! Even people in less offensive cars with access to cheaper parking are paying way more than someone who takes transit every day. Does anyone other than the government really think that a tax credit is going to speak to these folks?

Even if it did, there’s another problem (one that would have been identified by our minister of transportation if he’d taken transit recently). The subways are full. The commuter trains are full. Giving people a tax credit to ride transit when there isn’t any room makes about as much sense as giving out daycare money when there aren’t any daycare spaces.

Oh wait.

No Water For Oil!

Ok, so it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “no blood for oil,” but it’s becoming the rallying cry for a cause that’s very serious and very close to home.

If you’ve got Insider Edition access to, or if you can get your hands on a hard copy, read Jeffrey Simpson today. In a column titled Alberta’s tar sands are soaking up too much water, he outlines concerns that the Green Party and others have been raising for some time.

In summary, it takes anywhere from 2 to 4.5 barrels of water to extract and refine one barrel of oil from the Alberta tar sands. That province, which is already one of most dry provinces in Canada, is using more than 7% of their water on the oil and gas industry. (Oh, and funny story, that’s made worse by the fact that they’re also losing glaciers and snow packs faster than I lose elections. How’s that for ironic?)

So that’s a problem. To say nothing of the acids (yes McBain, real acid), mercury, and other toxins that are left over after the oil is separated from the bitumen, sand, and other residue. Not to mention all the other reasons that continuing to increase oil extraction and consumption is a bad idea, including Peak Oil (we’re gonna run out of the stuff…) and the Climate Crisis (…unless we wipe ourselves out first).

And it’s not just airhuggers who are worried. The Pembina Institute released a 154 page study a few months ago reaching the same conclusions, and even the Canada West Foundation thinks it’s maybe not such a good idea for the government of Alberta to be practically giving this water away for free.

In the mean time, I’m open to other clever slogan ideas. So far I’ve got “make love, not pools of toxic sludge,” and “all we are saying is give renewables a chance.” They could use some work.