Tuesday, November 28, 2006

London Debrief

So many others, including Elizabeth, Adriana, Camile, Jim, the other Jim, and more, have already said it. I'm not sure what to add.

Today, the Greens are the story. It was true that we had a shot, and the numbers don't even tell the full story of how close we came. Due to the overlapping municipal election, the federal campaign only started to build real momentum in the last week, and wasn't going full-tilt until this past weekend. I'm certain that with one or two more weeks, we would have taken the riding.

Sobara says this result should worry the Conservatives. He's 1/3 right. It should worry the Liberals and NDP too. Compared to the last election, we took six and nine percent from them, respectively, and another six percent from the Conservatives. As Elizabeth says, we're not vote splitters, we vote unifiers.

We beat the governing party, and the NDP, who started the campaign by saying "the Greens won't be a factor," came a distant fourth. Everyone who voted NDP because they thought that candidate had a better chance, or Liberal because they were afraid of the admittedly frightening Conservative should, in the words of the NDP attack piece, "think carefully." Same for everyone who didn't bother because they didn't think their vote would change anything. We'll always get distorted election results, and have a less healthy democracy than we should, until people feel like they can vote for the candidate they want.

Congratulations to everyone involved, this is great stuff to build on and we've definitely shaken things up. As usual, I can't wait for the next campaign.

ps. Anyone who wants to debrief in person, I'll be at the Toronto Centre Greens pub night tomorrow (Wednesday) at The Ben Wicks, from about 7:30pm on.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

NDP Attacks Greens!

Oh boy is this an exciting day. The NDP, whose candidate said at the start of this campaign that the Green Party wouldn't be a factor, has been distributing a specifically anti-Green flyer. Clearly, we've now convinced them that we are a factor. There's much celebration here in the May campaign office.

I heard about the flyer today from a disgruntled NDP volunteer I bumped into while canvassing. She'd been shocked to see it and had refused to hand it out. She mentioned that her young daughter, who'd been canvassing with her, had been particularly upset by the whole thing.

For the text of the flyer, Elizabeth May's take on the attack, and some pretty funny context to a quote of Elizabeth's that had its context unduly removed, check out Elizabeth May's blog post.

Tomorrow. Monday. This is it.

Two Days To Go

I'm blogging from inside "the green house," a rented London home filled with 30+ volunteers from across the country. And yet, that's nothing compared to the approximately 75 people who were in the Elizabeth May campaign office for this morning's briefing, or the others who showed up later.

We're very optimistic here. And we have reason. For example, check out the final results of this poll from am980.ca:

Ok, I know, that's not a scientific poll, but boy is that a good margin. Regardless, maybe you should also check out this leaked NDP poll which puts us neck and neck with the Liberals (and the NDP and Conservative candidates "out of the race").

Also, check out this news story on tonight's Saturday Report on CBC. (Update: that link now goes directly to the right video clip.) I did three showings of it on my laptop here in the house to make sure everyone had a chance to see it.

Finally, today's letters to the editor in the London Free Press could not have been more positive for Elizabeth, or given more compelling reasons why now is the time to vote Green.

Today's message? Elizabeth has a real shot here, and she is the strategic choice. You, or someone you know in London North Centre, could be her winning vote. If you're here or know someone who is, please make that appeal. The house of commons doesn't need another back-bencher; it needs Elizabeth. (The green house, on the other hand, needs to settle down so I can get to sleep!)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, London

The other main event of my most recent trip to London (besides my conversation with Raffi) was the second Green Party of Canada Policy Conference in the ongoing "Green Plus" series, this one on post secondary education, held at the University of Western Ontario. I won't go into as much detail about this policy conference as I did about the first one. That is to say, this post will be not quite as long as a novella.

Instead of segmenting my summary by speaker, I've decided to do it more by topic. This is largely because of the degree to which the speakers agreed with each other, or at least spoke to the same themes. (I should again reiterate that the meeting was not intended to create policy, as that can only be done by a vote of the membership in a general meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to learn more about the issue and have a critical discussion, which will help inform the creation of policy in the future.)

Our Cast Of Characters
  • Dr. Karin Cope, Acting Director of Writing Resources at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD)
  • Trevor Hanna, Vice-Président aux affaires internationales et fédérales, Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ)
  • Sean Junor, Manager of Knowledge Mobilization, Educational Policy Institute (EPI) Toronto
  • Dr. Andrew Potter, Public Affairs columnist for Maclean’s, visiting scholar with the Educational Policy Institute, Toronto
First, The Good News

All speakers began by emphasizing the positive. Namely, Cope pointed out the fact that Canada leads OECD countries in the number of people with tertiary degrees, and that having a post-secondary degree generally means higher income, better sex (I'm going to refrain from theorizing on why that might be), and generally happier people. That being said, there are some looming areas of concern. Two of the most obvious examples are the increasingly critical amount of student debt and deferred infrastructure costs, as is the case in Nova Scotia, where the deferred maintenance bill is around half a billion dollars.

The real trick, explained Cope, will be to figure out the true cost of education, as well as the true value to society. Those things aren't easy to measure, but of course that's just the kind of challenge that Greens like to embrace.

Undergrad is the New High School

Potter spent the most time on this, but it was echoed by Junor and Cope as well. They argued that undergraduate programs, from both the perspective of the student and the professor, have become a lot like high school used to be.

There are two main arguments behind this observation. First, more people are pursuing post-secondary education than in the past, which means that a BA, for example, is becoming almost as common in the job market as a high school diploma was several decades ago. Second, university professors are spending increasing amounts of time teaching basic spelling, grammar, and writing skills to university students -- skills they should have learned in high school.

Commodification and Massification

All of this contributes to the commodification of the undergraduate degree, and the massification (you can rarely escape a university lecture hall without hearing at least one made-up word) of the graduate degree.

Commodification of undergrad programs referrers to the sense that students are now buying a brand name credential, as opposed to participating in a community or increasing their ability to think critically. That was my own experience, in fact. Whenever I had a complaint or question about why my undergrad was being pursued in a certain way, the reaction from my peers was always something to the effect of, "Chris, it doesn't matter. Everyone knows we're just buying a $40,000 piece of paper."

This situation is further aggravated by the increasingly prominent belief by some students, and particularly business students, that cheating, plagiarizing, and buying your way through university is fair game.

Massification of graduate programs referrers to the fact that, according to Potter, we're giving out the same number of masters degrees today as we were undergraduate degrees forty years ago.

The result is what he calls an "educational arms race," where people seek out greater and greater credential (either a masters degree, or a prestige undergrad) in order to distinguish themselves in the job market. The problem with that, Potter argues, is that the extra time and resources being spent on this arms race don't actually raise the population's level of education or contribute to the economy. He cautions against any federal policy that would feed into this system.

Teaching and Research Don't Mix

The original intention of our university system (still Potter talking) was to have small schools like Trent focusing on undergraduate programs (ie. teaching) and large schools like University of Toronto focusing on graduate programs (ie. research). However, the Canadian preference for universalism has meant that all schools have tried to be everything to everyone.

The problem with that is that the skill set that's required to be a good teacher and the skill set that's required for research are very different. While it's commonly assumed by professors that there's some kind of symbiotic relationship between teaching and research, that's not true. Studies show that for most faculty members, there's a reverse relationship between the two (high research hours mean low student contact and vice versa).

The solution is to somehow create a more clear distinction between the two functions of teaching and research. In reality, that's happening anyway, though in a less than desirable way. Cope pointed out that undergraduate teaching duties are increasingly carried out by temporary, contract employees with little to no job security or benefits, which leads to little to no loyalty to the employing institution or their students. Likewise, tenured professors spend most of their time on graduate work.

How to actually accomplish this distinction is a more difficult question. Potter and Junor both advocate for a "grand bargain" whereby the federal government would take control of graduate studies (since research is largely a federal responsibility) while leaving undergraduate studies with the provinces, but neither one of them thinks that could be achieved politically. A more practical solution may be to separate the two distinctions in an intramural fashion, assigning teaching and research responsibilities to different faculties. In addition, faculty members should be allowed to decide at the time of their hiring weather they want to be evaluated and promoted based on their teaching skills or their research abilities.

Free Education

A great deal of the question and answer time was spent discussing whether or not free education is a desirable goal. I was surprised to hear some interesting arguments that it isn't.

The conversation was initiated by a Green Party member in the audience who referenced Canada's international commitment to the goal of free post-secondary education by way of our signing of a 1970s United Nations agreement. Potter countered by saying that the federal government had no business making such a commitment in the first place, since education is clearly a constitutional responsibility of the provinces. There was a general consensus from the panel that, if free education is going to happen, it should happen at a provincial level.

And yet, Cope and Junor questioned the desirability of free education from a social point of view. Junor began by identifying that the two barriers to participation in a post-secondary education are accessibility (determined largely through high school grades) and affordability (determined by ability to pay). Even if you made education free, it would still only be accessible to those with the highest academic credentials, who, for the most part, also happen to be those who can afford university anyway. The problem of access, therefore, is larger and more systemic than can be addressed through universally free education.

Cope also pointed out that when tuition fees are reduced, that disproportionately benefits higher-income students because they make up a larger percentage of the university population. The money it takes to lower tuition would be better spent on needs-based grants to ensure that it gets to those who need it most.

Junor summarized his argument by saying something to the effect of, "If you asked me if the cost of tuition for lower-income Canadians should be close to zero, I'd say that's about right. And if you asked me if the amount of government assistance going to the wealthiest Canadians should be close to zero, I'd say that's about right."

In other words, it's cheaper, more feasible, and more socially just to make education free (or close to free) only for those who can't afford it through needs-based grants than to try to do so for the entire population through the lowering or elimination of tuition. Also, if the ultimate goal is accessibility, we need to address larger systemic inequalities in addition to dealing with affordability.

Meanwhile, in the Real World

Of course I didn't agree with everything the speakers said, but I came away feeling like I had a better understanding of the challenges facing post-secondary education in Canada, and what some of the solutions should be. Then four of us walked around the campus trying to convince students to vote in the advance polls. The mixture of confusion and amusement that I received from many regarding this "voting" idea was not as encouraging. It's no big mystery why politicians find it so easy to ignore university students.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Back In London

Apologies for sporadic posts. Regular blogging is easiest in times of stability, and this is anything but.

I'm back in London at the moment (working on the campaign to elect Elizabeth May). Part of the non-blogging is from the sense that I need to spend every moment I can trying to get to as many London voters as possible. And, even though Google Analytics tells me that hundreds of you read this blog every week (thanks, by the way), it also tells me that you live all over North America and the world, which doesn't help the London situation very much.

Last night at dinner with a good chunk of the campaign team, Elizabeth decided on a whim to call Raffi. Yes, the Raffi. Then, on an even more random whim, she passed the phone to me. There's not really any point beyond that, I just wanted to let you all know that I talked to Raffi last night, and I'm pretty happy about it.

Tonight there was an all-candidates debate. Well, almost all candidates. The conservative candidate didn't show because of a scheduling conflict. We're all trying to brainstorm what could have been more important. Anyway, the uplifting news is that Elizabeth was the first candidate to get applause (no one applauded until a few minutes in), received the most applause over the course of the evening, and was the only candidate to receive applause for her closing statement. It was clear to everyone in the room that she won the debate, which is consistent with previous results.

Keep helping however you can. This one's gonna be tight.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Impossible Dream

Sometimes a song pops into your head unannounced and gets stuck for hours. You almost never know how it got there. (Were you just singing that? Is there a radio on somewhere?) Currently, my song is "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha.

I'm writing from the train, traveling back to Toronto after a weekend of canvassing for Elizabeth May in London North Centre. I'm not sure where Don Quixote came from or exactly when he showed up, but I'm in the mood to hypothesize.

This morning I went with Elizabeth and my new friend Steve Edwards (Communications Chair for London North Centre) to St. Paul's Anglican Church. The homily, by Archdeacon D. Ian Grant, was about the need for justice, using the acceptance of same sex marriage as the primary example. That would have seemed impossible just a few decades ago.

Last night, at the dinner to benefit Olivia's Dream, a veteran told an unjust story about a sick girl in an unnamed country where citizens have to pay for all medical treatments above a certain limit, regardless of ability to pay or how necessary those treatments are. Tommy Douglas' dream of universal healthcare must have seemed impossible to most just a century ago (and, in many countries, still would).

One week ago, if I'm being honest, despite all public optimism, I believed on some deep level that electing Canada's first Green MP on November 27 was likely impossible. I know now that that's not true; Elizabeth has a real chance.

Today, I was on sign duty. My new friend Larry and I (there are lots of new friends in London) drove around the whole riding looking for a piece of public property where an opponent had a sign and we didn't. It was a challenging task. Over the course of a few hours we found one or two vacant spots and promptly rectified the situation. Currently, we have more signs up than any other candidate.

In addition, Elizabeth seems to have somehow befriended more people in London than most Londoners. Everywhere we go she is recognized and greeted warmly. And this campaign is just getting started. Mark my words: you ain't seen nothing yet. (Randy Bachman just showed up and pushed Don Quixote out of the way. I wonder who else will make a surprise appearance.)

In a way, we can't really lose. We're generating huge amounts of attention and setting the agenda for the campaign (just one of many "firsts"). At the very least we're giving the other parties a run for their money and forcing them to consider issues that experience tells us they'd otherwise ignore. And, not unimportantly, we're having a lot of fun. I'm very jealous of those people – from BC Ben to PEI Sharon -- who have been able to move to London for the month to campaign full time. I can guarantee that no other party is having a better time.

See you again next weekend, new-London-friends. Stay true to that glorious quest.

My Pappa's Clippings

My Pappa (George Tindal, my dad's dad) has taken to sending me newspaper clippings in the mail. It's somewhat of a right of passage in my family -- my dad and his brother have been getting clippings for years. My clippings, however, are much more targeted. Every story Pappa sends me has something to do with the converging environmental crises. On the top of the articles he writes little notes to me, like "it's time for Canadians to wake up," and "good luck." This week I got a fresh batch (the Stern report, the all-the-fish-are-going-to-die report, etc) with the note, "Congratulations on your appointment to Shadow Cabinet." (Oh yeah, did I mention? I was appointed to Shadow Cabinet!)

I've been thinking about Pappa this remembrance day. He's a veteran of the second world war, but we never really talk about it. I get the sense that he doesn't want to. Him and two brothers went over; only one of his brothers came back.

This morning, Elizabeth, myself, and other campaign volunteers attended the London 11:11 ceremonies before going out door knocking. This evening, we attended a dinner at the Dutch Canadian Society Hall, which was a joint benefit for Mark Wilson and a girl named Olivia. The former was killed in Afganistan, the latter is a two-year-old who was born with cancer. Both of their families sat at the head table. So yes, it was a an emotional dinner.

And yet, the evening ended with organizer Michelle Iurman singing war-era songs from her album "Lest We Forget." Embarrassingly, I didn't know any of them, while Elizabeth knew every word. (I'm embarrassed for myself, not Elizabeth.) I wish you could have all been there to see her making jazz hands while singing "praise the lord and pass the ammunition" at the top of her lungs, in between bantering with our waitress in Dutch. The woman is a wonder.

Now, I'm sitting around with volunteers who have come from all across the country to get her elected. We have a cause and a sense of urgency. I'm reminded of that by my Pappa's clippings, and I'm motivated by his support. He gave and endured so much; by comparison, what we're doing should be a walk in the park.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

London Calling

This morning at 6:30am I met David Scrymgeour (Green Party of Canada Director of Organizing) and Elizabeth May outside of the home where she stays while in Toronto and hitched a ride to London. I'm writing this from the converted internet cafe that is the Elizabeth May Campaign Office. Somehow, all of the computers are still here from the internet cafe days, modified glowing cases and all. Volunteers are sitting at every screen calling voters using Skype.

Well, except for this screen. I'm selfishly bogarting it for blogging purposes. I'm feeling justified right now though, since I canvassed a whole poll by myself earlier today and (from what I can tell) hold today's record for most lawn signs secured, including two lawns that already had NDP signs on them. (Remind me to be modest about something later to compensate for this paragraph.)

This is a real, live campaign out here. The office is buzzing with volunteers, there are stacks of signs (with Elizabeth's name and photo), several different flyers/postcards have been printed, and clips of media coverage are pasted all over the walls.

That being said, they still need your help. If you can't make it down here for a day or two, you can still donate or phone people from your house. It makes a big difference. We've got an uphill battle here, but Elizabeth has already been endorsed by a number of very high-profile community leaders, including an influential newspaper columnist who was at our morning briefing.

Ok, that's a long enough break. Got to get back to work...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, Halifax

I'm back in Toronto today after being in Halifax yesterday for the first policy conference in a series for the Green Party. It was a great experience, and the organizing team (Chris Alders et al) is to be commended.

The conference was on Ecological Tax Shifting and Environmental Economics, which is of course a key issue for us. As of yesterday morning, there were 150 people registered. An hour before lunch, Chris Alders counted over 170 people in the room.

Here's the kicker: most of them -- about 125 of the total -- weren't Green Party members. The conference was free to attend, and open to the public. How's that for doing politics differently? This strategy had at least three major benefits:
  1. It got the attendance of the conference up to a critical mass, giving it credibility and productivity.
  2. It meant that ideas that most Greens would take for granted (for example, that unlimited economic growth can't continue) were immediately challenged by people who didn't have the same assumptions as the rest of us. This forced the group to recognize how our policies will be interpreted, and what we have to do to be convincing.
  3. We weren't only preaching to the choir. I'm confident that the majority of newcomers in attendance left with a more complete and positive understanding of what the Green Party stands for, and I wouldn't be surprised if many of them take up memberships and get involved in the days to come.
Of course, this also meant that the conference didn't make formal decisions or pass resolutions. That's ok, that wasn't the point. The point was to listen to a series of experts on the topic at hand, ask questions, and make policy recommendations to the leader (Elizabeth) and the Shadow Cabinet (to be announced this week) to further develop into a platform that's consistent with existing policy.

For the meat and potatoes of what went down (from my humble perspective and note-taking skills), please follow the links below. These posts aren't really "easy-reading," but I thought it was important to document what happened at the conference for those who are interested in the details. For those who aren't, you might wanna skip this stuff.
  • Dr. Ron Colman - GPI Atlantic - Presentation on Genuine Progress
  • Dr. Peter Victor - York University - Presentation on Economic Growth
  • Amy Taylor - Pembina Institute - How Environmental Tax Shifting Works
  • Andrew Van Iterson - Green Budget Coalition - Implementing Environmental Tax Shifting
  • Paul Lansbergen - Forestry Products Association of Canada - Effect on Industry of Environmental Tax Shifting
See also:

Dr. Ron Colman - "A Sobering Place to Begin"

The following is one post in a series: "Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, Halifax"

Dr. Ron Colman, founder and Executive Director of GPI Atlantic, began by placing Environmental Tax Shifting (ETS) in context. ETS, he explained, is a second step. The first step must be to assign real value to things like our environment and volunteerism, for example, that are currently not valued by our economic indicators at all. That's a sobering place to begin, he said, because of course we should already be valuing these things. But we're not.

On the flight to Halifax, I flipped through an issue of The Economist. The good news is that a large amount of the magazine was dedicated to the dangers of climate change (including, but not limited to economic dangers) and the need for action. Yet, there, at the back of the magazine, was the standard two-page spread of the GDP of countries around the world.

The GDP isn't a problem in itself; the problem is how we use it. Increasingly, the GDP is assumed to be a measure of wellbeing (generally, how well things are going). That, despite warnings over sixty years ago by GDP architect Simon Kuznets, who said that's exactly the sort of thing the GDP shouldn't be used for.

In Economics 101, the economy is described as a perpetual motion machine, completely separate from other systems. Of course, the reality is that the economy is a sub-system of the biosphere, with both inputs and outputs. Conventional economics still ignores that, and, in the words of Colman, is therefore "being taught all wrong."

There are some fun examples that demonstrate why we live in what Colman called a "distorted market economy." The extreme example that I've used before is that if we cut down every tree in Canada, our GDP would skyrocket, yet of course that wouldn't actually be good for the economy or anything else. A real-life example is the Exxon Valdez, which contributed more to the GDP of Alaska by spilling its oil (because of all the money spent on the clean-up) than if it had delivered its cargo.

Colman gave another example to illustrate the absurdity of not including volunteer work when measuring the size and value of an economy. If you hire a housekeeper, he explained, the GDP goes up. Marry your housekeeper, and the GDP goes down. That's entirely false, since no actual expansion or contraction of the economy has taken place, just a transfer of work between the paid sector to the unpaid sector.

So, that's the problem. The solution is a Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI. The GPI tracks genuine progress by creating a set of new accounts that value human, social, and environmental resources. Only within the context of genuine progress, Colman argued, can we make any subsequent tax shifts "systemic" instead of "episodic." In other words, once triple-bottom-line resources are accounted for, externalities are internalized, and prices reflect the true costs of production, the market will be more efficient, less wasteful, and require less government intervention.

"This room should be full of right-wingers," observed Colman. "Market economists should love this stuff!"

Dr. Peter Victor - Managing Without Growth

The following is one post in a series: "Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, Halifax"

Dr. Peter Victor from the University of York went next, with a presentation called "Managing Without Growth." Building on what Colman had said, Victor observed that economic growth has become "the over-arching policy objective" (as in, the ultimate objective of most government policies, towards which their effectiveness is measured) of countries around the world.

This development is extremely new, having only emerged about fifty years go. Go back only a little further on a evolutionary timeline -- say, four hundred years, and we didn't even have the modern notion of "progress."

Victor demonstrated three main realities:
  1. Whether you like it or not, growth is not possible in the long term.
  2. Growth does not bring happiness. While real income has increased in the US since 1945, the percentage of people who describe themselves as "very happy" has decreased. While early levels of income increase do contribute to happiness, the effect drops off after a point. The results are matched around the world.
  3. Growth is not particularly effective at eliminating poverty, creating full employment, or safe-guarding the environment. Since 1976, as both the GDP and greenhouse gas emissions have gone up consistently, levels of unemployment and poverty have bounced around.
(During the question and answer period following his presentation, we discovered that point number one really needs to be hammered home with some economists. They've been taught that growth is not only good, but critical. Victor kept repeating something to the effect of, "ok, fine, but you can't have growth for ever, so even if you're right about how great it is that's irrelevant.")

Much of Victor's presentation was actually very technical, but also possible for a lay person like me to understand. He's created an economic model called LOWGROW, where he can plug in different variables (income tax, carbon tax, etc.) and see what happens to the economy (GDP, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, unemployment, etc) over a timeline. It's sort of like a simulation video game, where the goal is to lower GHGs as much as possible, while also raising levels of employment and holding the GDP steady.

The fun thing (well, fun for nerds like me at least) is that you can play with the model yourself if you want. It's available for download here.

It's important to note that Victor is not advocating for a zero or low growth policy exactly. He's simply trying to demonstrate that you can have a healthy economy and environment without growth. That's important, because concern about maintaining economic growth is often a barrier for people who would otherwise be sympathetic to green policies.

Elizabeth May often points out that humans stop growing once we enter adulthood. That doesn't mean we don't continue to "develop" in a qualitative sense.

Amy Taylor - Nuts And Bolts of ETS

The following is one post in a series: "Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, Halifax"

Amy Taylor from the Pembina Institute presented on the details of how Environmental Tax Shifting should be implemented. The goal is to internalize costs, and can be accomplished in a number of ways, including regulation, trade permits, and environmental pricing, which includes subsidy removal, taxes, charges and user fees.

There are three kinds of ETS:
  1. Broad. For example, a shift from income tax to consumption tax.
  2. Sector Specific. This shift occurs within one industry, so that taxes are reinvested to make that industry more efficient and environmentally responsible.
  3. Individual reform. For example, deposits on beer bottles.
The good news is, other countries have already tested this stuff out and shown that it works, so we don't have to jump before we look. (Come to think of it, that's also bad news, because it means we're already behind.) For example, Germany increased a fossil fuels tax while decreasing employment insurance charges. Sweden gives efficiency rebates to those who purchase more energy efficient vehicles.

Taylor concluded with two lists. First, things we should conceder taxing (or taxing more): water consumption, municipal waste, green house gas emissions, motor vehicle pollution, deforestation. Second, taxes we could reduce: income, capital, property, payroll charges, sales taxes.

Andrew Van Iterson - Green Budget Coalition

The following is one post in a series: "Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, Halifax"

Andrew Van Iterson is a former Green Party candidate, and as such it's not surprising that he built on what Amy had said by explaining how to sell the tax shift. If this is going to be successful, some key elements will be:
  • Transparent revenue neutrality. ETS can't be seen as a tax grab, and it needs to be very clear to everyone which taxes are going up and which ones are going down.
  • Most Canadians should have no net increase in their tax burden.
  • Promote the benefits and the long term advantages of ETS.
  • ETS needs to be phased-in and predictable so that there's less of a price shock. Advanced knowledge also contributes to long-term planning. (See the Income Trust announcement as an example of what not to do.)
  • Account for regional (provincial) differences. Different taxes are going to hit different regions in different ways, and we need to be aware of and sensitive to that.
  • Any exemptions to ETS must be conditional on performance achievements, investments or covenants. Don't exempt the most polluting industries, as has sometimes happened in Europe.
Transparency is helped by ensuring that at least a portion of funds collected through environmental taxes are recycled back into prominent environmental programs so that the public can see clear benefits.

Van Iterson also emphasized the importance of ensuring that ETS (for example, a differentiated energy tax) does not hit the poor harder. He suggested rebate cheques (along the lines of existing GST rebates) and reduced income tax at lowest brackets. Businesses should be provided with R&D funding for developing technologies, reducing pollution and increasing efficiency. Recycled funds should be targeted to the hardest-hit sectors, based on production.

It should also be emphasized that research suggests that ETS does not hurt competitiveness. The biggest thing that's needed now is political leadership and advanced research, so that ETS can be sold on a very practical, "how does it affect me" level.

Paul Lansbergen - Forest Products Association of Canada

The following is one post in a series: "Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, Halifax"

I'm proud that the Green Party invited someone from the forestry industry to speak at our conference. That'd be sort of like the Conservatives inviting a guest speaker from EGALE or OCAP, or the NDP inviting the Fraser Institute. Lansbergen was funny about it, too. "Hello," he began his presentation, "my name is Paul and I represent a large final emitter."

The point was to understand how these policy changes were going to affect different industries, using forest products as an example. Lansbergen told us that his industry is currently taxed more than the oil or mining industries, even though they're arguably less-damaging. He also gave statistics on how much of the Canadian forest products industry meets various certifications (including FSC), and how far ahead we are of some other countries. Without giving specifics, he claimed that his industry has already met Kyoto "five-times over."

Overall, Lansbergen's argument was that good behaviour needs to be recognized and rewarded by government, and that the effect of any policies on the economy and jobs must be seriously considered.

Workshop Recommendations

The following is one post in a series: "Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, Halifax"

After hearing all five presentations, we broke out into five workshops, which were tasked with making policy recommendations (not policy resolutions) to the party. The following are my notes of each workshop's recommendations.

Environmental Tax Shifting And Energy

Five Recommendations

Need a broad-based approach.

  1. Eliminate the tax breaks related to the fossil fuel industry. Use them to push for alternative energy. Subsidies should be used to help industries get started or though tough times.
  2. Increase to 100% Accelerated Capital Cost allowances for Low Impact removal's with a sunset clause (this is an initial investment to get the industry started, with the idea that the market will make the sources viable at a later date).
  3. Suite of Environmental Taxes (IA. Free bates for vehicles, carbon taxes, conserve public ownership of rail beds). One of the problems facing rail is that the beds are owned by private companies, which means levies are put on them. Carbon taxes and consumption taxes should modify the public's habits to conserve more energy and use more efficient processes.
  4. institute programs for increasing energy efficiency in all sectors. Work with provinces, but Natural Resources Canada has a role.
  5. Establish measurable targets for emissions reductions.
Persuading the Public and Diminishing Resistance

Intergovernmental relationships; need to foster relationships. Also, with unions, corporations, corporate accounting firms.
Media tends to favour the status quo.
Need to make people sense the urgency without feeling hopeless.
Working in an international context.

Internet / educational videos.
Contests to generate advertising levels
Target messaging to groups (unions, corporations)
Pilot tax-shifting projects (house-wide, village-wide) to show how it actually affects different people.
Work at the riding level with specific examples

Scare tactics can be effective, but have we had our fill? It's more constructive to present solutions. Do some A/B (you can choose this or that) advertising. ("This is your planet. This is your planet on oil. Any questions?")
Candidate must be well-versed to speak to specific issues in their riding.
Must talk to children about the larger issues, even if they can't understand the complexities of ETS.

Make sure that it's non-partisan. Must appeal to uniquely human values. Make it simple, don't overload people with information. Needs to be a phased-in education system. Training programs to make sure that people who might lose their jobs under ETS can find new employment.

Where to shift taxes to? What sectors?

Tax the negatives to decrease harmful activity.

Taxes must be recycled within the same industry. (Exception: education.)

Use GPI sectors and indicators to guide us.

It was a difficult mission to say only "where to," because we wanted to look at the whole picture.

Specific sectors: health, agriculture, energy.

Education of more health=-care workers
Preventive medicine and education
Recreational activity
Mental health

Organic soil is important. Farmers must be supported. Indicators must be created.
Local farm markets are crucial.
Need for organic certification.
Support for natural areas (biodiversity and carbon sequestration)
Need to change behaviour.

Research and development.
There is a public and private aspect, which will have different recommendations. (Applies to all categories.)
Need income tax reduction and rebate for lower-income people.
Green energy infrastructure.


We have to live at a level that others can achieve. Live with a lower standard of living. Shorter work-week, with more leisure time.

The Green Party should say that "no growth" is the number one priority. (David Orton) Explain how it will benefit combating global warming. (Other suggestion: we should have no specific policy on growth.)

We need to establish principals and create constituencies, not just campaign during the election.
The values of the green party do have a lot of support. Need to focus on PR.

Houses need to be built with a longer life span.

Growth in the form of the GDP is not a measure of wellbeing. It should therefore not be the focus of public policy. We need multiple measures that have been developed and identified. We need to focus on the GDP and livelihood.


Disclaimer: Forests are a provincial jurisdiction.
  1. GPC needs to develop a long-range view: minimally 60-100 years, more optimally 7 generations or more. In terms of thinking about what the forests could generate and what their value is. For example: biodiversity, multiple uses of the forest and its products.
  2. Research. Call for GPI analysis of Canada's forests. There is no national knowledge. We also need to research examples of best forestry practices in Canada and world wide
  3. Tax shift to favour selective cutting. Highest levels of certification would favour social and environmental value. Favour smaller stakeholders vs. larger. Restoration of forests. Development of near markets. Stumpage rates should be different province to province. Diversify markets, internally and externally. Create higher value-added products and non-fiber products (mushrooms, bark, acorns, nuts).
    **NAFTA means we can't do a lot of this stuff, but it's still a good idea and we should still try.**
  4. Work on aligning levels of government. Statement of national principal/value that the provinces can work to.
  5. Focus effort on achieving a balance with industry and workers. Think about what this industry means to us and value both the environment and the humans who are involved in the industry; work towards the benefits of both.

Closing Statements

The following is one post in a series: "Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, Halifax"

Here are my notes, paraphrasing the closing statements of all five presenters.

Paul Lansbergen

Representing a big industry that can be the target of some criticism, I wasn't sure what to expect coming here. It's been a useful day, we've covered a lot of ground, shared ideas. We've agreed and disagreed, but there as been fruitful food for thought. My reading of the tea leaves living in Ottawa and working government: the environment is gaining more attention from Canadians. They're starting to consider personal cost to achieve environmental goals. This will bode well for the Green Party. Good Luck.

Amy Taylor

Thanks for your energy and participation. The number of people left in the room is a testament to the enthusiasm of the Green Party. I'd be happy to participate in any future events or continue this discussion via email.

Dr. Ronald Colman

Think back to the graph that shows we're now in 30% overshoot of our planet's resources. There are really only three scenarios.
1. Business as usual.
2. Look at the social side of the equation and seriously address poverty. But if that's only done in the way it's usually done (we don't address the access consumption of the rich), that's a problem. If we only raise the standards of the poor you increase the rate of overshoot. In order to maintain our standard of living in Canada we need a huge chunk of the world to live in poverty.
3. We need to address the consumption patterns of the rich. This is where the environmental perspective and social justice perspective is crucial, and the Green Party is the only group that's willing to do that.

We can (need) to talk about no growth, at least from the point of view of consumption. Present levels of consumption are not sustainable if we have any commitment at all to improving the living standards of the poor.

How does a political party differ from an NGO? There's a big difference. An NGO won't look at different issues (environmental and social justice, for example) together. A party must look at the whole picture and bring them together.

Gains in productivity can either be taken through increased income or increased leisure time. The Netherlands has reduced its unemployment by distributing work. Part-time work became very attractive. Read the book "Sharing the work, Sparing the Planet." (Haden?) Elizabeth becoming the leader of the GPC is the most exciting thing that's happened on the Canadian political scene in a very long time; politics will be changed in a very short time.

Dr. Peter Victor

I'm tackling this issue of growth because it's such an inappropriate overriding policy objective. Your policy objectives guide your policies. Therefore, the GPC needs to be clear on what its objectives are. That choice will then guide the instruments you use. If the party isn't clear on its set of objectives (I don't think you should have a growth objective, be more specific). Objectives should be things like eliminating poverty, protecting the environment, etc. The problem is that the growth objective has overwhelmed us. Good ideas get stopped if they're not pro-growth, and bad ones get adopted if they are. You'll be judged by the success of your own instruments towards the objectives you've set.

Andrew Van Iterson

Read "Life, Money and Illusion" by Mike Nickerson. Talk about tax shifting with your friends; get it into the discourse. Let's get people talking.

Friday, November 03, 2006

On My Way To Halifax

Sorry for being out of touch, it's been an extra busy week. For now I'll just say that there are lots of exciting things in the works that I'll let you know about soon, including a Green Party podcast I'm getting ready to launch.

This weekend I'm on my way to Halifax for the first of several Green Party mini-policy conferences. These events will be key to 1) making sure we have another solid platform for the next election that covers a wide variety of issues, and 2) convincing the media that we're credible and deserve to be included in the televised leaders' debates. (Having a policy conference in-between elections was one of the conditions for inclusion stated by at least one executive last time around -- by the end of this year we will have had six since the summer.)

This first conference is on "Tax shifting and Environmental Economics." (Yes, this is my idea of a good time. I clearly have some kind of sickness.) I'll let you know how it goes.

Now, off to the airport...