Monthly Archives: May 2007

My Mini-Controversy

Thought you might want to know about something that’s been keeping me busy and occupying more than its fair share of my mind space these past few days.

Last week, I made a post to Torontoist explaining the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly’s proposal to change how we vote in Ontario, and outlining their reasons for making that decision. As you know, I tend to agree with them, if for no other reason than the fact that now that we’ve conducted this lengthy, democratic, and open consultation process to find out what Ontarians want, it would be pretty unwise to ignore, well, what Ontarians said they want.

I was going to let you know about that post anyway, but what followed was a combination of frustrating and amusing, and seems worth sharing as well. You should check out the chain of comments to my post yourself, but in summary:

  1. I was accused of being in a conflict of interest, because, not only do I support MMP, I also belong to organizations that support MMP. (Scandal!)
  2. The editors explained that I’m not in violation of the site’s conflict of interest policy, since I disclosed my interests in the post. Also, the policy actually only deals directly with people writing about their “professional” lives, which is a bit of a stretch since I’ve never been paid so much as a dime by any Green Party or Fair Vote organization.
  3. Andrew Potter (an author and MacLean’s contributor who once described MMP as an “electoral system for losers”) argued that Torontoist was obligated to let a guest contributer represent the “no” side.
  4. Other commenters pointed out that not only does MacLean’s not follow that standard, Torontoist is a blog (a blog!) with a clearly stated editorial point of view policy. Also, any Torontoist contributers who want to write in support of the “no” side are free to do so, but none have expressed interest.
  5. Other commenters briefly attempt to actually discuss the merits of MMP itself (including people who oppose MMP), but have to fight for space with this other meta-discussion.
  6. I’m accused of spreading “green party talking points” (as is later pointed out by someone else, all I’ve actually done is communicated the thinking of the Citizens’ Assembly) and participating in “political interference.”
  7. I’m accused of “hijacking” Torontoist, and using it as a “puppet” to spread “propaganda.”
  8. The same commenter (who isn’t using his or her real name) complains that there is “no room for dissent,” marking their third post to a page which is now more full of “dissent” than my original post.
  9. The same commenter calls for Torontoist to “give this site back to the people!” A friend of mine following the discussion IMs me: “When did you stop being a person?”
  10. I’m accused of being an “operative,” whatever that means.
  11. I’m again accused of being a “parrot…in the employ of the Green Party.”
  12. Andrew Potter complains about the whole thing on his MacLean’s blog. Demonstrating a brilliant understanding of irony, he frets that we’re not allowing for divergent viewpoints while writing on his own blog which doesn’t allow comments.

The important lesson I take out of the whole thing is that when people don’t know how to argue about the actual issues, they attack the person instead. Also, for some reason, the lower the stakes (again, we’re talking about a blog), the nastier things get.

Tonight I’m off to Midland to represent Fair Vote Canada at a referendum choice meeting there. The more we all talk about this the better. As the Citizens’ Assembly process proves, a randomly selected group of Ontarians that understands the issues will always choose MMP over our current system by a wide margin.

And We’re Back (With A Look At Carbon Credits!)

The last few days I’ve had to focus my blog-related-energy on moving this website to a new host. My email addresses at this domain have stopped working four times in the past three months (I get about 100 emails a day, so it’s frustrating to try and guess what I might have missed), and iPowerWeb, who had been hosting this domain, didn’t even respond to my last email (yes, I was smart enough to send it from another working email address). The switch would have happened over the last 24 hours–hopefully you all survived.

I’m now on Dreamhost, which has some neat business practices I thought you might want to know about. For one, they’re employee owned, which is positive from a social justice perspective. They also have all sorts of open source applications that can be installed automatically (including the software this blog runs on), and open source is something I’m very supportive of.

The other neat thing about Dreamhost is that they’ve purchased carbon credits to offset the emissions created by running their business (including “paper in the office, electricity for our servers, even the gas in our cars that bring us to the office“). You can verify that this site is actually “hosted green” by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the right column of this page.

The basic idea behind carbon credits (aka carbon offsets) is to either pay someone else to reduce their emissions instead of reducing your own (buying credits), or to make money by reducing your carbon emissions more than the average bear (selling credits).

This carbon trading system works best when in conjunction with a “hard cap,” resulting in a “cap and trade” system. That means that each emitter is given a maximum amount of carbon they’re allowed to emit. If they exceed their limit, they’re forced to buy credits from other emitters who have reduced below their limit. The Green Party of Canada proposes setting up a cap and trade system for what’s known as Large Final Emitters (or LFE, for eco-geeks), but you could theoretically apply this system at the individual level as well.

Of course, carbon credits are a bit controversial these days, since for the most part there isn’t yet an easy and transparent way to ensure that buying a credit for one tonne of carbon actually results in one less tonne of carbon being released into the atmosphere. That’s really important because, from a climate change standpoint, the only thing that matters is that the over-all amount of greenhouse gases getting released into the atmosphere goes down (which is also why the “intensity targets” approach of George Bush and Stephen Harper is a hoax).

In other words, the purchase of carbon credits should only be used as a last resort, after a company or individual has done everything they can to reduce their emissions in the first place. For example, instead of buying offsets for your coal-generated electricity, buy your electricity from a clean supplier instead. Instead of buying offsets for your car, get a more efficient car or, you know, stop driving as much.

Dreamhost, as far as I can tell from their website, has taken at least some of those kinds of steps, but probably not as many as they could. But hey, none of us are perfect. For now I’m filing this under “better than nothing.”

ps. Seriously though, the main point of this post is, “if you emailed me in the last two days and haven’t heard back, please try again.”

When The Truth Is Off-Topic

The threat of deep integration by stealth with the United States is becoming increasingly concerning. The only thing more frightening than what we do know about the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership is what the current Conservative government and the preceding Liberal one don’t want us to know about it.

In case you think I’m waxing a little too conspiratorial, I refer you to this news story from last Friday:

OTTAWA – Amid heated charges of a coverup, Tory MPs on Thursday abruptly shut down parliamentary hearings on a controversial plan to further integrate Canada and the U.S.

The firestorm erupted within minutes of testimony by University of Alberta professor Gordon Laxer that Canadians will be left “to freeze in the dark” if the government forges ahead with plans to integrate energy supplies across North America.

He was testifying on behalf of the Alberta-based Parkland Institute about concerns with the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a 2005 accord by the U.S., Canada and Mexico to streamline economic and security rules across the continent.

Of note is also this eye-witness account from Liberal MP Mark Holland, including:

The puzzled Mr. Laxer was stopped by the Chair because Leon said he was off topic. He demanded the witness speak only about items linked to the days agenda. Fair enough – except that the witness was doing exactly that. In point of fact, the previous witness was also discussing the same thing – energy security as it pertains to Canada-US trade…

The presentation that Laxer was trying to make when he was cut-off arrived in my inbox yesterday. For the record, here’s what’s at stake, and what the Harper government has demonstrated through their actions that they don’t want us to know:

Presentation on the SPP to the International Trade Committee
Gordon Laxer
Political Economy Professor, and The Director
Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta

May 10, 2007


Parkland Institute is an Alberta-wide research network at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. We are supported by over 600 individual members and dozens of progressive organizations. Parkland Institute conducts research and education for the public good.

My remarks are on the energy and climate change implications of the SPP.

Why No Energy Security for Canadians?

I don’t understand why Canada is discussing helping to ensure American energy security when Canada has no energy policy, and no plans or enough pipelines, to get oil to Eastern Canadians during an international supply crisis. Canada is the most vulnerable member of the International Energy Agency – IEA, yet recklessly exports a higher and higher share of its oil and gas to the U.S. This locks Canada into a higher share under NAFTA’s proportionality clause. Instead of guaranteeing U.S. energy security, how about a Canadian SPP – Secure Petroleum Plan for Canada?

While rising Canadian oil exports help wean America off Middle Eastern oil, Canada is shirking responsibility to Canadians. Rising Canadian exports are perversely leading to greater Middle Eastern imports for Canada.

We import about 40% of our oil – 850,000 barrels per day, to meet 90 per cent of Atlantic Canada’s and Quebec’s needs, and 40 per cent of Ontario’s. A rising share, 45 per cent comes from OPEC countries, primarily Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Imports from North Sea suppliers – Norway and Britain –are shrinking (37 per cent).

Many eastern Canadians heat their homes with oil. Yet we have no plan to send domestic supplies to them. Why not? In which NAFTA country are the citizens most likely to freeze in the dark?

The National Energy Board’s mandate is to “promote safety and security … in the Canadian public interest”. Yet they wrote me on April 12: “Unfortunately, the NEB has not undertaken any studies on security of supply.” This is shocking.

I asked the NEB about whether Canada is considering setting up a Strategic Petroleum Reserve under its membership in the IEA. The NEB replied that Canada “was specifically exempted from establishing a reserve, on the grounds that Canada is a net exporting country whereas the other members are net importers.”

The IEA was set up by industrial countries in 1974 to counter OPECs boycotting power. The 24 members must maintain emergency oil reserves equivalent to 90 days of net imports. Only net-exporters are exempt. Canada shares this status with 3 other members.

Britain and Denmark have been net exporters, but set up strategic reserves, as required of European Union members. That leaves Norway and Canada. Norway doesn’t need a reserve. Sensibly, it supplies its own citizens, before exporting surpluses.

Western Canada can’t supply all of Eastern Canadian needs, because NAFTA reserves Canadian oil for Americans’ security of supply. Canada now exports 63 per cent of our oil and 56 per cent of our natural gas production. Those export shares are currently locked in place by NAFTA’s proportionality clause which requires us not to reduce recent export proportions. Mexico refused proportionality. It applies only to Canada.

As well, we don’t have the east-west pipelines to fully meet Eastern needs. Instead, 5 export pipelines are planned.

Although we have more than enough oil and gas to meet Canadians needs, Canada is the most exposed IEA member. Meanwhile, the U.S. is doubling its Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Natural gas

Nor does Canada have a natural gas plan. At last summer G-8 meetings, Canada began negotiations to send Russian gas to Quebec. It is very risky. Recently, Russia cut natural gas exports to Ukraine and Byelorussia for political reasons.

Why import natural gas, when we could be self-sufficient and energy independent?


Those are official U.S. goals in its 2001 National Energy Policy – NEP. Domestic ownership too – remember Congress blocked a Chinese takeover of Unocal. The US didn’t draw up a continental security plan in 2001, but a national one, as Mexico has, like we should. Most countries have similar national policies.

No one is fooled by SPP talk that ‘North American energy security’ is anything more than US energy security.

I don’t advocate copying the U.S. on all energy policies – finding ‘their’ oil under someone else’s sands – Middle Eastern, and Alberta’s tarsands.

Strategic petroleum reserves help short-term crunches, but not long-term ones. Eastern Canadians’ best insurance is to restore the rule before the Free Trade Agreement – no energy exports before 25 years of ‘proven’ supply, not ‘expected’ supply.

The SPP is taking us in the wrong direction:

  • Quickening environmental approval of tarsands exports
  • More LNG terminals in Canada dedicated for U.S. export
  • Bringing in temporary Mexican workers without permanent resident rights

Paradigm Shift

Instead, Canada needs a paradigm shift to face the new realities:

  • Security trumping trade – means that energy security for Canadians trumps NAFTA
  • Climate change – The production of tarsands oil, ¾ of which is exported, is the single biggest contributor to our rising greenhouse gases. This is the gassy elephant in the living room everyone pretends not to see. Instead, we need a moratorium on new tarsands projects. Then, cut consumption to reduce carbon emissions.
  • NAFTA’s proportionality clause – You won’t convince Canadians to cut fossil fuel use, as we must, if it means that whatever we save is exported to the U.S., the proportional requirement rises, and tarsands carbon emissions remain unchanged.


Instead of the SPP Canada needs a new energy security and conservation strategy. Canada has a NEP – No Energy Plan. It is not helping Alberta or other producing regions. The people of Alberta, the oil and gas owners, receive pitifully low royalties and other economic rents. Alberta and Norway have similar amounts of oil and gas, yet Alberta’s Heritage Fund was started in 1976 and has 12billion US. Norway started their fund in 1996 and has 250 billion US. Much of tarsands oil is shipped out raw without upgrading in Alberta.

Canada must do a national energy strategy differently – as a partnership with the producing provinces and territories. The 1980 National Energy Program had good goals – energy sufficiency, independence, Canadian ownership and security, but it was unilaterally imposed.

A new federal-provincial plan must raise economic rents in all their forms so producing regions can use the funds to transition to a post-carbon economy. Otherwise, in a generation, Alberta will become, not the rust belt like the U.S mid-west, but the fossil belt.


  • No SPP before public hearings, bills before Parliament, the consent of Canadians.
  • No export of raw bitumen
  • No environmental sacrifice zones in northern Alberta
  • Higher economic rents
  • Get a Mexican exemption on proportionality

Finally, a new SPP – Secure Petroleum Plan for Canadians.

Arguments Against Nuclear Power

I randomly came across this website the other day. It took me a little longer than it should have to realize it was a sarcastic joke, but once I got there I was quite amused. (which appears to be a project of Greenpeace) is a mocking and timely look at nuclear power, and the misinformation that we’re being fed about it. (Timely, because nuclear power has been back in the news recently, and will likely should be a major issue in the next provincial election.)

When I first joined the Green Party a few years ago, I was reluctant to declare myself anti-nuclear. What I’d heard and read had led me to believe that nuclear power was a good solution to our energy needs, especially in the context of the need to fight climate change. What I’ve learned since then has changed my mind. In fact, by using the keywords “affordable, reliable, and clean” in their PR campaigns, it’s almost as if the nuclear industry thought it would be funny to identify their greatest weaknesses and try and convince us they were actually strengths.

For many, of all the arguments against nuclear, none are more convincing than the economic ones. Nuclear power plants are insanely expensive to build, insanely expensive to maintain, almost always go over budget, and require ongoing hidden government subsidization in the form of expensive insurance and other financial support. For example, the Darlington plant was originally budgeted at $2.5 Billion and came in at $14.4 Billion. In fact, we have an entire corporate entity in Ontario dedicated to managing the debt that we still have left over from the nuclear plants we’ve already built. And now, Dalton McGuinty is proposing to spend another $40,000,000,000 on new plants. That works out to about $4000 per individual, or $16,000 for a household of four. Imagine the investments that could be made in conservation and decentralized, local generation for that kind of money. Now try and imagine anyone wanting to pay for nuclear power if they had to pay the true, full cost.

Our history with nuclear power in Ontario has taught us that it’s anything but. Reactors go down more often and for longer periods of time than they’re supposed to. And when a nuclear reactor goes down, it’s a big, expensive, time-consuming problem to fix (in stark contrast to, say, if a wind turbine stops turning for a few hours or even days).

It’s simply untrue to claim that nuclear is “emissions free.” While it does have fewer direct emissions than coal, the process of mining and transporting the radioactive uranium is a dirty and fossil-fuel-dependent process. Then, of course, there’s the little issue of the waste that’s left over.

Centralized forms of electricity generation like nuclear are fundamentally less secure than decentralized ones like small-scale hydro, wind and solar, geothermal, and demand shifting. Never mind the fact that in 2003 one tree branch was able to take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard (a result of rigid, centralized systems), nuclear power plants make great targets for terrorists. I’d suggest we don’t need any more targets in a time when our own senate says we can’t even secure our airports.

Nuclear Weapons?
On a related note, there’s a closer connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons than we’d generally like to admit. There are therefore ethical implications not only to developing nuclear power domestically, but also to selling our technology internationally.

Nuclear power is unsustainable on two counts, and on a relatively short timeline. First, nuclear power is dependent–throughout many stages of production–on fossil fuels. Now that geologists are debating not if we’re going to run out of easily accessible oil, but when, the reality is that nuclear power will become increasingly expensive and unfeasible as we pass peak oil and descend down the unsatisfying dénouement on the other side. Second, there is a finite amount of available and appropriate uranium in the world. According to National Geographic, “readily available uranium fuel won’t last much more than 50 years.” Technological advancements will no doubt draw this number out (maybe 100 years? 150?), but it’s worth keeping in mind, especially when taking into account how long it takes to build a nuclear power plant in the first place (about 12 years).

As I’ve mentioned throughout this post, there are lots of alternatives to nuclear. Proponents of nuclear power will always counter by pointing out that there’s nothing else that can produce the huge amount of electricity that nuclear does, and they’re right. But that doesn’t make all of the above problems magically disapear. The bottom line is, we need to use less energy.

ps. Oops, apparently I’m repeating myself, and getting more verbose in my old age.