Category Archives: social justice

Letter Writing, To No Veil

I will begrudgingly admit that the Globe is under no obligation to publish everything I send them, but it’s unfortunate they didn’t print the following letter, sent yesterday, as a way of correcting their incorrect statement from yesterday’s editorial that “not one [party] has come out against the new bill.”

The Globe and Mail is absolutely correct to condemn the NDP for joining with the Conservatives in “pandering to fears of Islam” and targeting Muslim women, especially considering that MPs have no problem with Canadians who vote without showing their faces so long as they live abroad. This follows Jack Layton’s strange and disturbing pronouncement late last year that he “prefers” Canadians who aren’t dual citizens to lead political parties, as if Canadians who hold dual citizenships are somehow second class. His party, which should be the champion of social justice, human rights and equality, seems to have lost its way in the pursuit of power and a closer relationship with those who hold it. Readers should know that there is one party, the Green Party of Canada, that opposes this shameful piece of legislation.

When there’s only one party taking a position that a significant number of Canadians support, it’s critically important for the media to report that so that voters can make informed decisions. Scott’s roundup on how NDP bloggers are reacting is also quite informative:

The decision by the NDP and Jack Layton to support the Cons. motion on prohibiting veiled voters from casting ballots has enraged traditional NDP supporting bloggers, and unaffiliated blogs on the progressive left who are normally sympathetic to the NDP today, although with the NDP’s view on blogging regarding it as the black sheep of the family, one wonders what if any effect it will have, or if anyone in NDP HQ even notices the discomfiture this has caused amongst their normally very loyal supporters.

How Do You Get To Massey Hall?

“It’s hard to beat the system / when we’re standing at a distance / so we keep waiting / waiting on the world to change.” -John Mayer

I don’t know, I only came close. I can at least tell you that practice has nothing to do with it. I’d practiced my speech a lot.

This evening I was invited to represent the Green Party of Canada at Vote Out Poverty, a sold-out event at Massey Hall put on by Make Poverty History and the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice. I was really excited about it. Poverty–domestically and internationally–must be aggressively addressed, and I looked forward to explaining what we propose to do about it. Besides, it would be an honour to share the stage with the likes of Mary Walsh, Stephen Lewis, The Nylons, and others. When I arrived, I was greeted outside by a nice woman with a headset and a clipboard, given my ticket and told that someone would come get me before it was my turn to speak along with the other federal representatives (Ken Dryden and Jack Layton).

Then, before the event started, a twist. The woman with the headset came back and told me that I wouldn’t be allowed to speak, because we’d “RSVPed too late” and there wasn’t time to change the script. (My attendance was confirmed this morning. There’d previously been a mix-up at the federal office since the invitation was sent to Elizabeth a day before her surgery.) I expressed my disappointment (politely, it wasn’t her fault after all) and asked if she could double-check if it really was impossible to add the words “and, from the Green Party, Chris Tindal” to the script. She went off to see what she could do.

Then, with the event already underway (The Nylons were singing John Mayer’s “Waiting for the World to Change”) she came back and told me that I’d been added to the script and would be able to speak after all. “Great, thanks,” I said.

First, the provincial representatives spoke. It was a very NDP-friendly room. The Liberal was heckled, the Conservative John Tory’s Candidate was outright booed, and Howard Hampton was given several standing ovations. Then, the federal representatives spoke. Um, except for me. I don’t really know why. They just never introduced me as I stood in the wings, waiting. Once Jack was done doing his thing they moved on to the next part of the evening.

Regardless of the fact that I’d canceled two other events to be there, I was already becoming profoundly discouraged at the way this campaign is going. Just a little more than one week left and we’ve talked about almost nothing other than funding for religious schools, as if that’s the only thing that mattered. And then there’s the referendum, which, we’re told by polls and news articles, Ontarians like when they understand it, but might vote it down since they don’t. Add to my frustration-pile that Howard Hampton reportedly went on CTV last night and told outright lies (sorry, but there’s just no other word for it) about what the Green Party stands for. You can only get away with that if people don’t actually know what we stand for. And you can only ensure that if you make sure we’re not allowed to speak for ourselves.

Ontario, you wouldn’t really keep voting for the same parties, using the same voting system, and expect a different result, would you? After all, you’re not insane.

ps. Yes, I’m aware that this has been a bit of a disjointed and emotional rant. Maybe I’d be wise to sleep on this before posting. Then again, it’ll be hard to get to sleep without getting this out first.

pps. Sorry I haven’t been blogging very much the past few days. If someone could please arrange for the federal government to award me a $20,000 communications contract, that could really help subsidize my income and free-up some time.

Government’s Biofuel Policy Dangerous

“My fear is not that people will stop talking about climate change. My fear is that they will talk us to Kingdom Come.” – George Monbiot

Just a few years ago, the biggest threat to our society’s survival was our willing blindness towards the crisis facing us. Now that we’re aware of that crisis, the biggest threat to our survival is our willingness to believe that there are easy answers; that we’re “on the right track;” that our political leaders are starting to “get it.” This is the threat of greenwash, intentional or otherwise, and it can’t be underestimated.

Last week, Canada’s New-ish-like GovernmentTM announced a $1.5 billion subsidy for biofuel production. You’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds like a positive, “step in the right direction.” In reality, it’s extremely dangerous and wrongheaded. In short, while some biofuel policies make sense, biofuels from crops like the ones targeted by Stephen Harper’s plan (corn, wheat, soy) lead to increasingly higher market prices for those crops, setting up a competition between cars and people for who gets to be fed by the Earth. Further, they’re likely to exacerbate, not mitigate, the climate crisis. And it’s happening already.

The fundamental idea behind biofuel is simple, as is its fundamental flaw. Fossil fuels comprise concentrated energy stored up by organic material (plants and animals) exposed to intense heat and pressure over the course of hundreds of millions of years. Since our dependence on fossil fuel energy is now becoming problematic and unrealistic for at least two major reasons (climate change and peak oil), the thinking behind biofuel is that we should just cut out the middle man and convert organic matter into hydrocarbons ourselves. It should be obvious, however, that we can never hope to produce biofuel rapidly enough to match our consumption of fossil fuels, since they took hundreds of millions of years to accumulate and we’ve already used up about half of that supply in just the past century.

What’s less obvious, perhaps, is that more than simply inadequate, this strategy is actually destructive. The $1.5 billion proposed by the Conservatives is an attempt to meet their own requirement for 5% ethanol content in gasoline by 2010. Europe has a similar target of 5.75% of transport power by 2010 and 10% by 2020. The United States is looking to use 35 billion gallons of biofuel a year. Problem is, according to the International Herald Tribute these targets “far exceed the agricultural capacities of the industrial North. Europe would need to plant 70 percent of its farmland with fuel crops. The entire corn and soy harvest of the United States would need to be processed as ethanol and biodiesel.” Of course, no American president or European leader is going to allow that to happen. Therefore, if these targets were actually met, they would likely have to be met by destroying the food systems of the South. The poor would go hungry while the wealthy pumped diverted human food into their SUVs.

Think this sounds implausible? It’s happening now:

CBC News, May 22 2007 – The rising demand for corn as a source of ethanol-blended fuel is largely to blame for increasing food costs around the world, and Canada is not immune, say industry experts.

Food prices rose 10 per cent in 2006, “driven mainly by surging prices of corn, wheat and soybean oil in the second part of the year,” the International Monetary Fund said in a report.

“Looking ahead, rising demand for biofuels will likely cause the prices of corn and soybean oil to rise further,” the authors wrote in the report released last month.

What’s more, the degree to which biofuels can contribute to solving the climate crisis has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, the wrong kind of biofuel policy could even make the climate crisis worse. According to the BBC, a recent United Nations report found that “demand for biofuels has accelerated the clearing of primary forest for palm plantations, particularly in southeast Asia. This destruction of ecosystems which remove carbon from the atmosphere can lead to a net increase in emissions.”

Even once the initial conversion of wilderness to farmland is complete, biofuels grown by current agribusiness methods require large inputs of fossil fuel energy, which defeats the purpose. As a result, the energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) is very weak. According to a U.S. government report, the EROEI for ethanol grown from corn is 1.34. In other words, it takes approximately three barrels of ethanol to produce four. And that’s the optimistic outlook. A study out of Cornell University found that the production of biofuels actually results in a net energy loss.

In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that:

  • corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
  • switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and
  • wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:

  • soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and
  • sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

Normally, you would expect the market to sort at least some of that out, since biofuels that actually lose energy would not be economically viable, right? Unless of course, the government subsidizes them to keep the price artificially low. (Oh wait…crap.)

Despite all this, I tend to think that most people pushing for biofuels are well-intentioned. George Monbiot, on the other hand, begins a column published recently in the Guardian titled A Lethal Solution by saying:

It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless.

He goes on to point out that “a report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that…biodiesel from palm oil causes up to TEN TIMES [caps his] as much climate change as ordinary diesel.”

Now here’s where this gets really hard to follow: not all biofuels are bad. The same UN report cited above also concluded that “using biomass for combined heat and power (CHP), rather than for transport fuels or other uses, is the best option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade – and also one of the cheapest.” The Green Party of Canada also supports investments in cellulosic ethanol, since it doesn’t set up the same competition between people and cars for food (a competition which, as Monbiot points out, “people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are, by definition, richer than those who are in danger of starvation”). A good shorthand then, perhaps, is that we shouldn’t be making car-food out of people-food, and that we should focus our biomass efforts on CHP instead of as replacements for transport fuels like gasoline and diesel.

It may seem like asking a lot for us laypeople to be able to tell the difference. Even so, in a democracy it’s our responsibility to figure it out. We can’t get the right solutions out of government unless we know which governments (in waiting) are offering them up.

Did Someone Order A Green Surprise?

In reporting the looming Toronto Centre by-election (Bill Graham’s resignation became effective one week ago today), there appears to be a temptation to portray this as a two-way race between the Liberal and the Conservative. (For example, this story published yesterday by the Ottawa Citizen makes no mention of either myself or the NDP candidate.)

That analysis is understandable, since those are the two largest parties at the national level. However, in the context of Toronto Centre, it’s faulty. Recent election results, as well as the current political climate, tell a different story.

The first-time Conservative candidate, Mark Warner, is trying to convince people that he has a shot at beating Liberal Bob Rae because, “if you go on the Elections Canada website and go back to the 1880s, you will see that this riding historically goes with the federal government.” It’s hard to know if he meant to say ‘1980s’ or was misquoted. Either way, things have changed since then. Actually, two very specific things: the demographic/psychographic make-up of Toronto Centre, and the Conservative Party of Canada.

While Mark’s right that our riding used to support Red-Tories, voters in Toronto Centre have shown little appetite for the Alliance-Conservative party of Stephen Harper. Mark’s assured me that he’s a progressive, and I have no reason to disbelieve him, but he unfortunately belongs to a party that has gutted women’s programs, removed “women’s equality” from the federal government’s mandate, eliminated successful environmental programs, refused to declare that water is a human right, blocked the international UN declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples, more closely aligned our foreign policy with the United States (including, when in opposition, pressuring the government to join the war in Iraq and criticizing them for trying secure justice for Maher Arar), dismissed the Geneva conventions, attempted to eliminate equal marriage, turned its back on Kyoto, turned its back on Kelowna, turned its back on Atlantic Canada…

Sorry, got off on a bit of a rant there. Point is, if Mark wants to make this Alliance-Conservative party progressive, he’s got his work cut-out for him. Especially considering that not even cabinet ministers in Harper’s government are allowed to speak their minds, let-alone back-bench MPs.

In reality, the Conservative candidate in the last election came a distant third, earning only 18% of the vote. In the vote before that, they got only 14%. The NDP, while still a distant second, were comfortably ahead of the Conservatives with 24% in each of the last two federal elections. So if you’re only going to talk about two parties in Toronto Centre, the NDP should be one of them.

And yet, it would be just as unlikely for the NDP to win this riding. For one, they’ve never done it—not once. Secondly, videos posted to the candidate’s website show his supporters (including one previous NDP candidate and two current elected NDP MPPs) mocking “Rosedale Bobby.” They therefore seem to have no interest in reaching out to the people of Rosedale, to put it mildly. That’s a big chunk of the riding to just cast off, and probably means that the best they can hope for is to remain maxed-out at 24% just as they have in the last two elections, despite having a very good candidate this time around.

The Green Party, on the other hand, is the only party up in the polls since the last federal election. (One poll even had us tied with the NDP nationally.) In Toronto Centre, our result in the last election (when I was also the candidate) was an increase of 48%, far more than that of any other party. Being a fiscally responsible and socially progressive party, we also appeal to a very diverse range of people. We appeal to Bill-Graham-Liberals who aren’t comfortable with Bob Rae, Progressive Conservatives who have lost their party entirely, and NDPers who feel, like so many I’ve talked to, that their party has lost its way, at least for the time being.

Am I predicting a Green win in Toronto Centre? Probably not this time, no. But it’s worth noting that the political landscape in Canada is shifting very quickly. The “Conservative vs. Liberal” dichotomy isn’t what it once was, and the formerly-dismissible Greens are now a serious factor. If there’s one thing we learned in the London North Centre by-election, it’s that Greens should not be underestimated.