Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Trash-Talking a Leadership Candidate

A fellow Liblogger's endorsement of Bob Rae garnered some harsh criticism of the candidate. Since I've also heard these comments from other Liberals, I want to address them.

Bigcitylib says that when Rae stepped down as Ontario premier he "left this province a smoking wreck". What a lot of rot. We were in pretty terrible shape after the years of Mike Harris, who polarized the province, slashed civil servant jobs, decimated the health system, and shot Indians... that was a shameful and scary time for our province. When Bob left, we had a howlingly mad NDP base (unions especially) who heard a big Ka-CHING when he won and got pissed when he didn't give them everything they wanted. The province was not in bad shape. He brought in tons of great initiatives. (See my own Rae endorsement for some details on that.)

Krydor says a Rae leadership win would guarantee a conservative majority, with the Liberals losing seats especially in Toronto. I don't know what the polls are. Bob Rae is really unpopular with some members of the civil servant and teacher's unions and the NDP base essentially tossed him out of office, but he is respected by most of the people I know in southern Ontario and Toronto. Also, Rae is able to address this issue. He is no apologist (as another commenter on the site implied). Rae says that his time as premier proves that he can weather tough times. He says that during the recession he governed through (which, by the way, was the worst since the Great Depression), he maintained investment, saved numerous companies, and maintained and in some cases expanded social programs. I think he can make his case to Ontarians.

Louise is less inflammatory but describes Rae's election as Ontario premier as "sort of a fluke". It was unexpected for sure and he took advantage of voter disgruntlement about an early election call, but Rae won because of his powerful, charismatic campaign style. Watch him go sometime. He's got the intelligence, knowledge and persuasiveness of Bill Clinton without the credibility problem. He draws people in and fires them up. If it's a fluke, it's one he's pulled off over and over in his political career, and he can do it again.


Wrecking the Environment Part 2

In my last post I ranted about how our air quality stinks and we're still not doing anything about it. I got some good thoughtful comments (thanks!). A couple of the writers felt the onus should not be put on private citizens. Carrie said, "I find it incredible that pressure is constantly put on the average citizen, when big business and government is taking little to no responsibility. The main culprits are the energy plants, factories, and other industrial facilities. If they start cutting their contribution to the problem, then I think the average citizen would follow suit."

I appreciate the argument but I don't agree. We've been talking about doing something for such a long time and the situation continues to get worse. I can't see us making any real progress until more citizens take this situation seriously and take more responsibility. We must take the lead. We elect the government. We work in, live next to, or own stock in the polluting companies. They're not doing it. If we want clean air, we're going to have to force it to happen.

As an idea... I emailed the president of my company suggesting that we set up an environmental task force to evaluate our impact on the environment and propose solutions for improving our record. I suggested that the task force might look into issues such as getting water coolers and reducing our use of plastic water bottles; reducing paper waste; examining alternatives to salt in the winter; looking into car use when getting to work and the alternatives; and recycling more IT equipment. I also suggested that we post an environmental mission statement and a statement of our improvement on our web site. Why not?


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Stupid Morons Wrecking the Environment

It's the second (or is it the third?) consecutive smog day in southern Ontario and I am mad as hell. By late afternoon the general ickiness of the air was joined by a nauseating chemical odor.

It's not even June yet. Last year we had nearly two months of smog days.

I don't live in a big city or an industrial area. Neither do the people up north in cottage country who also regularly get smog days now. We in S-Ont get smog from a variety of sources:

* Ontario's coal-fired electrical generators, which the Ontario government has been desperately trying to close down but cannot because Ontario citizens, despite years of government-sponsored initiatives, keep increasing their electrical consumption
* our own stinking cars and gas lawn mowers
* industry that was strategically located along the US border to send pollution out of the US

We have all this nice civilized talk about Kyoto while the majority of people are doing NOTHING for the environment. I paid a lot of money to install a fancy ceiling fan with a thermostat so I don't have to use air conditioning, but if there are brown-outs my fan will fail along with all those air conditioners set to freezer temperatures.

It seems that no amount of public education programs are going to work. We need laws and monetary disincentives. Why are they so long in coming? Some areas have outlawed vehicle idling and home herbicide use: why hasn't everyone? (Why hasn't Waterloo?) Why aren't we imposing a $5,000 pollution tax on SUVs and trucks? The pollution they produce is costing the health care system plenty. Why aren't we tacking pollution taxes on gas lawn mowers (which produce far, far more pollution than cars)? We need to consider a graded electricity price that increases after you pass a certain limit. We need to decide that we aren't going to put up with this crap anymore and do something about it.

I work in the R&D park on the University of Waterloo campus. UW just built a building there with the second largest green roof in Canada, and they have been championing their brilliant environmental initiative. But around that building are a hundred acres of bare dirt that used to be corn fields. For a fraction of the cost of their show-off roof they could have planted trees and shrubs that would have done far more for our environment than a small patch of native grasses on top of a building. Sometimes it just seems that we're not serious about really doing something pragmatic to help the environment. It's all hot air and hypocrisy.

(My own hipocrisy: I am pretty good on most counts environmentally, but I love to travel by plane, and that's a huge polluter. So I can't cut myself out of the stupid moron category either.)


U.S. Not the Land of Opportunity, New Studies Show

Recent studies in Britain and Germany, reported this week in the Economist, show that European countries have much more social mobility than the United States.

The studies measured the income of fathers and sons. A socially immobile county (one where the incomes of fathers and sons are the same - the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor) was given a 1. A completely socially mobile country (one where the prosperity of sons is not at all predetermined by their fathers) was given a zero. The scores reported in the Economist were:

Nordic countries: 0.2
Britain: 0.36
USA: 0.54

The Economist went on to say,

The biggest finding of the studies is not, however, about overall social mobility, but about mobility at the bottom. This is the most distinctive feature of Nordic societies, and it is also perhaps the most significant difference with America. Around three-quarters of sons born into the poorest fifth of the population in Nordic countries in the late 1950s had moved out of that category by the time they were in their early 40s. In contrast, only just over half of American men born at the bottom later moved up. This is another respect in which Britain is more like the Nordics than like America: some 70% of its poorest sons escaped from poverty within a generation.

The Nordic countries are distinctive in one further way: the sons born at the bottom (into the poorest fifth) earn roughly the same as those born a rung above them (the second-poorest fifth). In other words, Nordic countries have almost completely snapped the link between the earnings of parents and children at and near the bottom. That is not at all true of America.

...The obvious explanation for greater mobility in the Nordic countries is their tax and welfare systems, which (especially when compared with America's) deliberately try to help the children of the poor to do better than their parents. One might expect social mobility and economic flexibility to go together—in fact, to be two sides of the same coin. But to the extent that redistribution is an explanation, it implies the opposite: that social mobility is a product of high public spending, a bit like the low incidence of poverty or longer life expectancy (on both of which Europe also does better than America). But greater public spending tends also to be associated with less economic flexibility—which is why Nordic countries have sought to limit the more arthritis-inducing features of their tax-and-spend programmes.

...For Europe, the secrets of greater social mobility are, first, tough redistribution policies that particularly benefit those at the bottom; and, especially in Nordic countries, a more supple and less class-ridden education system, running from top to bottom. America could learn something from that.

The studies are “Non-linearities in Inter-generational Earnings Mobility” (Royal Economics Society, London) and “American Exceptionalism in a New Light” (Institute for the Study of Labour, Bonn), both by Bernt Bratsberg, Knut Roed, Oddbjorn Raaum, Robin Naylor, Markus Jantti, Tor Eriksson, Eva Osterbacka and Anders Bjorklund.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

I Have a Dream

- US President Al Gore
- US Vice-President Hillary Clinton
- Canadian Prime Minister Bob Rae

Just imagine the world we could create: fiscally, environmentally and socially responsible; fiscally, environmentally and socially progressive. Leaders who have a sincere desire to make the world a better place for all, and the vision and skill set to make great improvements.

Okay, it won't happen, at least not in the US. But playing with the idea brings to mind the oft-heard comment on the left that it doesn't matter who's in power (Liberal/Conservative, Democrat/Republican) because they're all the same.

That's so tragically untrue that it's criminally negligent. (I mean you, Ralph Nader.) Can anyone argue that the US is the same place with George Bush at its helm as it would have been with Al Gore? Does anyone remember all the great things that Jimmy Carter did? Imagine the world if he had been reelected (as he might have been if not for Iran) and if the entire Reagan era had never happened.

I believe that presidents and prime ministers should govern from the middle. Once elected, their constituents are not just the folks who voted for them - a leader must represent and do right by everyone. That means that the base doesn't get everything they want. Being a left-wing politician means you care about everyone's welfare, and you don't enact economic policies that benefit the employed by creating more unemployed. But governing from the middle and being fiscally responsible does not mean that a center-left government is anything like a right-wing government.

Another sentiment popular in both the US and Canada these days is that all parties are so corrupt that it doesn't matter who you vote for. I think we really need to give ourselves a shake and drop all this cynical crap. Most politicians are honest and our political system works. There has been corruption but it's not systemic. If you want to see what systemic corruption feels like, try living and working in Africa for a little while. When there is systemic corruption, you won't just read about it in the news; when it exists, you'll experience it first-hand.

In the case of Canada we had a financial scandal that toppled our government. It was a very serious scandal and we should do all we can to ensure nothing like it ever happens again. However, let's keep it in perspective. This scandal occurred in a desperate attempt to keep Quebec from separating from the rest of Canada. It seems likely that the financial scandal was not the whole story; there was probably also voter fraud in the 1995 sovereignty referendum. The people who did these things should be punished and steps should be taken to prevent them from happening again, but this kind of malfeasance is different from personal financial corruption.

I'm not claiming that we have never had any corrupt politicians who used their position to get rich. Before letting the Tories take the high ground on the corruption issue, everyone should read Stevie Cameron's 1995 classic On the Take: Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Mulroney Years, which details the hundreds of things the Mulroneys did to line their pockets while he was prime minister. One of her most serious allegations, the Karl Schreiber Airbus scandal, has since been confirmed by Schreiber, who admits to giving Mulroney hundreds of thousands of dollars. Keep in mind that the litigious Mr. Mulroney never tried to sue Cameron over any of her allegations.

I recently read an Ipsos Reid poll that said only 20% of Canadians support conservative values and policies. For everyone who does, I say vive la difference and go for it. But for those who have different values, it's tragic that our own cynicism and partisan blinkers should keep us from achieving our vision.


Friday, May 19, 2006

The Weird Wild World of Debt Relief

For over a decade there has been a powerful international movement to provide debt relief to developing countries. This movement included religious leaders, heads of state, rock stars, a large coalition of US conservative religious organizations, and on and on. They had votes in the US congress. They had money and power and visibility. They had a strong argument: debt repayments from the south to the north are crippling the south. And in many cases very poor countries were being forced to pay back loans that in the US or Canada a court would declare illegitimate - because it was money borrowed by individuals that the IMF or World Bank turned into public debt, or because the debt was acquired by an unelected dictator who no-one should have been loaning money to.

Despite having all this on their side, the debt relief movement didn't get very far. Oh, a little program called Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative was started in which the indebted poor countries had to jump through hoops for three to six years in order to get some help on their interest payments, but no serious successes were achieved.

Then the US invaded Iraq.

As the occupiers of Iraq, the US had to deal with Iraqi international debt, which amounted to a staggering $120 billion. Only $4B of this amount was debt held by the US; most of the rest was owed to France, Germany, Russia and some Arab countries. Notice that all of those countries opposed the US invasion of Iraq. The US tried to declare that the debt was, in legal terms, "odious" and so did not need to be repaid, but that ploy failed. The US then tried to get the international community to give debt relief to Iraq, but that too was not accepted. In particular, French President Jacques Chirac spoke out against the US plan and said that if Iraqi debt should be forgiven, then so should the debt of all poor countries. It's not clear at all that Chirac meant what he said, but Bush & Co. called his bluff and said Well okay then: let's have a widespread program of debt relief.

Bush & Co. didn't actually fall on their noggins and start caring about the poor and dying of the world. They wanted to clear the Iraqi debt, and they thought they could manipulate the situation so that they could achieve a dual goal of crippling the IMF and World Bank. So they proposed that the debt of some poor countries should be forgiven, and the entire cost of the operation should be borne by the IMF and World Bank.

They almost won. They got some of the Iraqi debt written off, and the $55 billion cost of the debt relief program is falling almost completely on the IMF (the World Bank escaped relatively unscathed). Eighteen other countries also got some relief, including Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

It isn't all champagne corks and car horns though. The countries still have to abide by IMF/World Bank restructuring conditions - reductions in infrastructure spending which have long been an impediment to their development. Also, in some cases the debt relief is matched by a reduction in future loans, which means some countries might not actually get anything out of it. It's possible that Tanzania might even lose funding from having its debt forgiven.

Still, it's an interesting insight into the self-interest that drives humanitarian achievements.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bicycles for New Orleans

A New Orleans charity based in St Bernard Parish is asking for bikes and bike parts to help residents and volunteers get around. Bikes would be a big help because many people can't afford cars and also there's still a gas shortage.

This charity, Emergency Communities, has been described as "a new, grassroots approach to disaster relief. Formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, EC brought together passionate young volunteers who could not find a place to contribute with more institutionalized relief efforts."

The United way writes, "Emergency Communities has become such a fabric of the St. Bernard community that Parish Government has made two requests: to continue [food provision] operations in St. Bernard Parish through June 2006; and that the Emergency Communities Center become a stop on the free public transportation route."

For more info about Emergency Communities, see EmergencyCommunities.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Book Launch: No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart

No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart: The Surprising Deceptions of Individual Choice

Concerned about the effects of big-box stores? About urban sprawl? About the influence of the world's largest companies? Too bad. As consumers we seem to have voted for all these things with our feet.

But what if it's not that simple?


Wine & cheese; meet the author Tom Slee
Words Worth Books, 100 King St S, Waterloo
Thursday, May 25, 7 PM

For more info about the launch, call 884-2665

For more info about the book, see:
No One Makes You Shop At Walmart


This is a really interesting book that argues we should revise the way we look at public decision-making. It discusses politics, ethics and economics, covers issues of immediate interest, and is well-written and engaging. And no, I'm not the author!


Monday, May 15, 2006

May Recipe: Banana Curry

Use ripe bananas. You can use yellow mustard seeds, but black are better.

1/4 cup cooking oil
2 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1.25 cups water
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
6 large bananas

In a large frying pan, heat the oil. When it starts to smoke, add the mustard seeds. As the seeds begin to pop, reduce the heat and add the rest of the spices: cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring. Add water and coconut; cook for 10 minutes. Add bananas and cook a few minutes more until tender but not mushy.

This is a good condiment for Indian food, but is also good with lots of other foods, including brunch. For a spicier version, use 5 bananas and reduce the water to 1 cup. This is also delicious made with sweet potatoes.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Price at the Pump

Gas prices are sky high. The US media is yelling that this is a major failure of the administration and a national calamity. But there's an upside to a higher price at the pump: it may be the only way our society will reduce car emissions. Higher gas prices may also be inevitable and they may be permanent.

The price we pay does not stop at the pump. The rise in oil prices causes a rise in inflation, both directly (gas costs are included in the consumer price index) and indirectly (as the increase in costs trickle down throughout the economy). To dampen inflation, the government raises interest rates, which hurts those of us who have mortgages, loans, and credit card debt.

The price rise could also cause a recession, as it did in the early 80s.

There are things the government could do. They could reduce the excise tax on any gas revenue over a certain price per liter; or remove the GST from the excise tax; or just reduce the excise tax. They could compensate poor people, small businesses, and farmers; or, as California proposed, they could compensate everyone. Since we're an oil producer, another option is to repeat what Trudeau did in the 70s, and set up a two-price system where oil producers can charge the world market price for gas they export but must charge a lower, regulated price for gas used in Canada.

The problem with these schemes is that they could negate the positive effects of a gas price rise: reducing wasteful consumption. We could all significantly reduce our energy use without suffering a reduction in lifestyle. That would reduce pollution, which would mean less bad air days - immediate tangible benefits - not even counting all the benefits from reducing global warming.

I recently read the figure of $1.80/liter as the magic gas price at which Canadians will significantly change their behavior. We're barely at a dollar now. Europe has paid more than the equivalent of $1.80/liter for decades, and the European agricultural sector and small businesses are flourishing. You only have to spend a day in France to see the difference: smaller cars and trucks, better urban transit, intercity trains, higher housing density, more walking-distance shopping, smaller homes, alternate energy sources like solar and wind, a more environmentally aware populace.

The argument that the poor must be compensated sounds very much like saying that everyone has a right to own a car. That sounds absurd... until you think that many of our cities are designed for cars. In my town, for example, the office where we renew our health cards is way out on the outskirts of town.

It would be much easier to control this situation if we had raised prices through more aggressive oil taxes, as Europe did. (A long overdue apology to Joe Clark on that one.) It would be prudent policy (if not politically feasible) for the government to respond to higher gas prices by raising the gas tax and using the revenue to subsidize transit infrastructure, environmental urban planning and the adoption of new technologies.

We're heading into summer, and it's predicted to be long and hot. Last year Ontario had a record 53 bad air days, and unless we can do something to reduce emissions, the trend predicts that this year will be worse. If we can't reduce car emissions through higher gas prices, what chance do we have?


Al Gore Update

I don't like TV news, with the exception of the Sunday morning US political shows. This morning Al Gore's name came up a couple of times, not in any punchy way, just laid back, almost joking, like: Hillary is so far ahead of any other leadership candidate that she has the job sewn up... unless Al Gore enters the race.

Since I hadn't heard a peep of serious news about Al making another run for president, I didn't think much of it, until I saw that Al was on Saturday Night Live last night. I still don't know what's up but that's a very very very good sign. Here's the footage:


(Sorry Hillary; I'll support you if Al doesn't run. Otherwise I think you'll make a great Veep.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Final Notes on the LPC(O) AGM

Here are a few final random notes about last weekend's Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) Annual General Meeting...

Marva Wisdom gave a presentation on the Liberal Renewal Commission (LRC) that is working on revitalizing the party. They're examining five areas: philosophy (values, faith and ethics), party structure, and the nature of a productive society, a democratic society, and a just society. They are committed to this being a grassroots renewal process. I'm sorry I took such poor notes on this initiative because it sounded very exciting and deserves much better coverage. The LRC has a web page here.

A fellow delegate made an interesting comment to me about the leadership race: He said the best outcome would be for no clear leader to emerge for several months so that we have time to have a good, broad-based discussion.

There are a lot of technical problems with the Liberal party web site and database. There is no process for becoming a member or making donations online. There are provincial registries of members but no national registry, which has caused all kinds of problems. Many people don't get membership cards. It really sounds like a mess. However, a new system is being rolled out that will address many of the issues.

I met a very bright, very nice high school student from the riding of St. Paul's (unfortunately I didn't notice his name) who was there as a youth delegate. He was in the process of meeting every leadership candidate. If he couldn't see them in person he would ask a staff member in the hospitality suite to set up a 5-10 minute appointment for him. He was asking each candidate a question, usually about how they would handle provincial equalization payments.

My table at lunch had a good discussion about the candidates. We agreed that Ignatieff needs to convince us that he can connect with Canadians. The worry is that he's out of touch (because he was out of the country and because he's been an observer rather than a player).

I've always wanted to make a list of how different political parties refer to the audience in speeches. For example, the NDP often refer to people as "folks" while the conservatives say "ladies and gentlemen". I noticed that Bill Graham referred to us as "colleagues".

In the South-Western Ontario regional meeting I attended, there was brief discussion of the formation of a caucus election readiness committee. I hope we're prepared for whatever Harper throws at us, because with his poll numbers he could do anything. I mentioned this to a fellow delegate who pooh-poohed me, saying it would only hurt Harper if he called an election too soon... but of course Harper could manipulate things so that he didn't call the election.

There has been a lot of talk in the Liblogs about the candidate's hospitality suites. A fellow delegate remarked to me that it's a pity they have to spend so much money on the rooms and booze. I got a lot more out of Ignatieff inviting us all to a bistro in the hotel for a sort of delegate scrum.

On the final morning we voted on constitutional amendments that were proposed by the executive. One proposed change was to do away with family memberships. People sitting around me thought it was very important that family memberships be outlawed because they were the cause of some abuse; for example, if someone wants to take over a riding association they can sign up unrelated people of the same name under a single family membership. It seemed that the amendment passed but then some very vocal people challenged something and we ended up voting again and it didn't receive the two-thirds majority it needed so it failed.

There was a group at the convention selling t-shirts that said "Women belong in the house" on the front and on the back, "And in the senate". I would have bought one but they were plain white and the writing was too high up. I was thinking how good it would be to have more variety of t-shirts at conventions, especially inventive and attractive ones, to raise money and party visibility.

My riding didn't subsidize my attendance at all so it was an expensive conference for me - $200 conference fee and $600 for the hotel, parking and transportation. However, it was a great experience and I don't regret the expenditure at all. Starting from when I arrived on Friday afternoon till I left 46 hours later, I soaked up a ton of information. Every speaker and every session was top-notch. I was on my own so was able to meet a lot of people, including a very nice woman from Toronto named Antoinette who introduced me to a number of her friends. When I used to be in the NDP I always felt like an outsider because I'm not a member of a union, but in this Liberal group I felt right at home. Thanks to everyone involved.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Forums on Urban/Rural Issues and on Energy (Yet More Notes from the LPCO AGM)

There were separate forums on urban/rural issues and energy. Both were well attended. I'm starting to get a bit tired of typing, so I'm going to just list a bunch of ideas and statements from my notes. Some of these were made by the panelists but many were comments from delegates.

Bridging Rural and Urban Canada
We lost a lot of rural votes in the last election. We need to understand why.

Urban and rural are not two solitudes. We need to understand the linkages. For example, 30,000 jobs in Toronto GTA depend on mining (marketing, tax consulting, finance, technology, etc).

Iogen - cellulose waste from corn stalks, is better than ethanol.

Technology is making new opportunities. For example, call center technology means that people can work at home for high wages, anywhere that has high speed internet. Ditto with remote health diagnoses.

If we allowed communities to be sponsors of immigrants, a town could request to sponsor doctors and nurses, for example.

We've done a lot to reduce poverty in children and seniors, but not enough for poor working-age adults. Someone working minimum wage full time makes $2,000/year less than the poorest senior.

We have to remember that many non-urban areas aren't involved in resource extraction or farming. Places like Barrie and Collingwood are small cities.

We need to do more for public transit within and between small towns.

We need government action on Manitoba flooding and rural sewage.

We should consider different policies for rural areas, such as bonfires, driving junker cars on private property, etc. "The regulatory load infringes on rights and on way of life."

Farmers are not getting a fair share in the marketplace. "Farmers are buying at retail and selling at wholesale."

We need transition programs for farmers to move to organic farming in response to consumer demand for organic food.

We need structural change in the party to demonstrate our commitment to exurban areas. For example, a rural commission. For example, staff reps for rural Canada. We send our press releases to the Globe & Mail but people in small towns don't read it.

Health in rural areas is a big issue.

We need short sharp direct statements on what we're going to do.

We need an emotional response, not just a policy response.

We should all work to put the rural discussion in every leadership debate.

This is a new world of high energy prices and they're here to stay.

Canada sells the US a lot of energy.

"We seem to have lost our energy advantage in Canada."

How to help Canadians cope with higher energy costs - should we have a rebate? We could eliminate the excise tax on gas for prices over 75 cents a liter, or eliminate the GST on the excise tax (both promises of the Conservatives before the election).

Studies have shown that gas has to get to $1.80/liter before drivers change their behavior.

A big issue is how to expand the tar sands without increasing C02 emissions.

Another issue is Chinese state-owned enterprises buying Canadian energy resources.

Argument about whether clean coal is an oxymoron.

Instead of shipping natural gas to the US, we should use it in value-added petrochemical production in Canada.

Our current policies are based on dirt cheap oil from Saudi Arabia: it was cheaper to import oil by tanker than to produce our own. Our old policy was "import to the east, export from the west." We should make sure we serve ourselves before other countries.

In Ontario, two-thirds of our hydroelectric capacity is not used.

Our accounting concepts work against limiting demand. For example, nuclear power costs don't reflect the long-term and off-balance sheet costs.

Another issue is shipping energy to the US and the free trade agreement.

Our environment and energy are integrated with the US. All of our exports of energy are to the US. Our biggest increase in C02 emissions is from tar sand extraction. We should charge the US for the pollution costs, just like the tire tax.

University engineering programs are too traditional. The government should encourage students to learn about non-traditional energy sources like solar and wind.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Environment Forum (More LPCO AGM Notes)

On Saturday, May 6 the LPCO AGM held a Forum on environmental issues. The panelists were Ellen Greenwood of Greenwood & Associates, Ken Ogilvie of Pollution Probe, and MP John Godfrey. Most of the 1200 delegates attended the forum and there was an outpouring of commitment to the issue and frustration with the lack of action by the previous Liberal governments. These are my notes of what was said...

Ellen Greenwood said that the Liberals have been great on policy but now it's time for action. She said the two main needs are to improve the energy efficiency of the economy and lower the carbon density of our energy production. She said it's a myth that this hurts the economy; in fact, it can help the economy. For example, Europe used market-driven incentives to promote efficient technologies. Germany had an industrial strategy (not environmental) to promote solar technology. Europe is ahead because they faced problems sooner because of their population density.

She said our problem is that we haven't learned how to grow properly. Sustainability is about good planning - a balance of economy, environment, and health.

Ken Ogilvie, Executive Director of Pollution Probe, spoke next. He said that the current Ontario government is showing environmental leadership but there isn't much other environmental leadership in Canada.

Ogilvie said that Pollution Probe was formed in 1969. He said that back then, they focused on "end of the pipe" pollution: pollutants coming out of a pipe and mostly into water. He said the next period dealt with the "pollution prevention principle" - getting people to reuse, recycle, etc. Now we're into the "design for the environment" period - design production processes and products that are better for the environment. He also mentioned Germany, and said that Germany is spending huge amounts on energy sources such as wind and solar: "they are driving their economy into a vision of the future."

John Godfrey said that climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation, and reminded us that last summer there were 53 bad air days in Ontario. He said we are approaching the end of cheap energy. He said that the Martin government took some initiatives, such as Project Green, to help the environment, but we didn't do enough, and the period 1993-2003 was "ten lost years." He thinks that climate change and energy should be top national priorities. It should be a great national movement - like WW2 - and not a problem that seems too expensive or too difficult. He also added that "Sweden chose a different path and made a lot of money doing so."

The first audience comment was by Tony O'Donahue. Tony was very critical of the past Liberal record on the environment and suggested that the party should hold a national conference on the environment. He suggested changing the building code at the national level; having a public discussion of greenhouse gases and transportation and the fact that Canada is consuming twice as much energy as Japan and Germany. The panelists discussed the building code and the need to update it. They said that the technology for more energy-efficient buildings exist and builders are frustrated.

The next audience member also expressed frustration with our lack of movement on the environment, and the lack of enforcement of environmental regulations. S/he asked how we can ensure that the next Liberal government will actually take action, and the panelists urged everyone to keep bringing it up with the leadership candidates.

The next audience member pointed out that Mike Harris enacted a waste diversion act that charges levies based on the weight of packaging, with the money passed on to municipalities to pay for dealing with the waste packaging. S/he said that this is effective, and asked for other ideas. The panelists mentioned that the tar sands have a very generous tax regime and said that we should employ tax shifting in Alberta to recoup the public costs of the oil extraction. Another panelist said that there are three areas of solution: technology, infrastructure, and pricing; backed up by regulation and education.

The next audience member has a company that builds Tirewall houses, which are made from old tires. He said that Canada and the US produce enough waste tires to build 150,000 tirewall houses a year.

Next up was Tim Flannery, a Kitchener-Centre environmental lawyer who worked on the Uniroyal case, among others. He said that environmental laws need constitutional force - an environmental bill of rights.

Constantine Campbell, a research scientist, said that we need to do more to produce ethanol from damaged grain.

In summation, Greenwood said that at this point the solutions are known and we have to act. She pointed out that there is a $1 trillion market for environment technologies.

Ogilvie added that Pollution Probe produces primers on all these issues that are freely available on their web site. He said each primer takes two years to write. He challenged the audience to read the primers and become better educated about the issues.

Godfrey pointed out that the environment is a wedge issue with the Conservatives. He mentioned that 85% of Quebeckers support Kyoto. He also said that this topic will, sadly, become more of an issue as summer comes along and we have smog days.


Reforming the Liberal Party (Mike Eizenga's LPCO AGM talk)

At the Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) AGM this weekend, there was lots of talk about the need to reform the party, and in particular to make it more inclusive.
The best single talk on the subject was by LPC president Mike Eizenga. These are my notes from his talk. He was extremely eloquent; unfortunately I couldn't write every word so my notes are a bit disjointed. Anyway, here's what he said...

We will not be able to win the next election unless we radically change the way we do things.

We need strong provincial territorial associations (PTAs) delivering resources to ridings.

We are stunningly over-governed: inefficient, expensive, and not suited to making effective decisions. We got this way in an attempt to include everyone.

Since we set up web-based membership, 150 people a day are joining the party.

Due to Bill C24, December 31, 2003 was the last day we could raise corporate funds. The Liberal party was the best Canadian party at raising corporate funds, but on January 1, 2004, we didn't have a donor's list. The NDP and Conservatives never raised a lot from corporations and had good private donor's lists. Last year the Conservative party raised $18 million; the Liberals raised $6.5 million.

In addition, the Liberals spend $4 million a year on bureaucracy. The Conservatives don't spend much on running their party. Their entire bureaucracy consists of a National Council with 20 members and a Policy Committee.

But the Conservatives' lack of PTAs causes problems for them. Everything is tightly controlled at the center. However, we need our PTAs to be a more effective resource for the ridings.

These are the principles and questions we need to address:

1. More seats at the table does not mean more representation.
2. PTAs must be principal inputs to the national party.
3. We need to shrink the size of the Liberal party operation. This will not be easy because we need 2/3 vote to amend the constitution.
4. We need to consider national membership - instead of joining LPC(O) join LPC. Have one membership office instead of 13.
5. We need grassroots policy and a renewed interest.

We need to change the party so that people will come to us to get things done. For example, people join the Sierra Club to clean up a polluted river because political parties don't get things done. This isn't a debating club. We want to change the world.


Liberal Leadership Debate

On Friday, May 5, all the Liberal party leadership candidates were included in a debate at the Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) Annual General Meeting. The format had every candidate make a 3-minute opening statement, followed by two sets of questions that they all had the opportunity to answer, followed by brief closing statements. I'll lump together all four of the speaking opportunities for each candidate. I'm pretty critical, but I think at this stage of the game it's good to point out problems that might become obstacles in a federal election, and that in most cases can be corrected.

Scott Brison
He spoke well. He started with a good speech attacking Harper. In his response to the first questions, he reeled off some related issues without really explaining them or making a case for them. But in the second set of questions, he neatly tied the issues (foreign aid, education, and Kyoto) together, saying, "Our comparative advantage as a country is that we're a leader in energy. So we can become a leader in clean energy technologies, and then help China leapfrog over dirty technology. We can be a global innovator and make a lot of money." My problem with this is that lots of other countries have already become leaders in environmental technology and we're way behind; this was more a statement for 10 or 20 years ago.

Maurizio Bevilacqua
In his opening remarks, I found his speaking style bombastic and I was somewhat put off. In his response to the first set of questions, all I wrote in my notes was, "He went on and on. Did he say anything?" However, during his final question-answering turn he got up and walked to the front of the stage and really seemed to connect with the audience. That was very good. However, he'd sort of lost me by that point so I didn't take any notes on what he said.

St├ęphane Dion
He has a very strong accent and his English isn't great. I only understood about 75% of what he said. His English is way worse than Chretien's.

He spoke with passion, but sometimes he didn't seem to be making sense. For example, in his opening remarks he said he supports Wilfrid Laurier's two pillars of Liberalism, economic growth and social justice, but says we need to add a third pillar, the environment. Then he went on about his "three pillars vision of Canada." The second set of questions were about Kyoto, foreign aid and education. He started his answer by copying Rae, saying "If we see these questions as disjoint, we will fail in the 21st century. We need the three pillars approach..." and then he talked about economic growth, social justice and the environment, totally dropping foreign aid and education.

He started his opening remarks by saying that Canada needs to be as great in the 21st century as we were in the 20th century. I found this an odd stand to take in a 3 minute prepared statement.

But in the first set of questions he was really effective in presenting himself as experienced and capable. Responding to a question about demonstrated leadership qualities, he said, "When Mr. Chretien asked me to deliver for unity I delivered for unity. When Mr. Martin asked me to deliver for Kyoto I brought the world together..."

The audience really liked Dion's speech. I was left cold because I couldn't understand lots of what he was saying and parts of what I could understand didn't make sense.

Martha Hall Finlay
Her delivery was very good. I felt that her opening remarks lacked content. She talked about attitude and leadership and said "it's time to be inspired." She complained about her short amount of time twice---thus wasting her short amount of time! I heard people in the audience grumbling about this. In response to a question about her experience for leadership, I thought her answer about being a mother sounded lame - but it didn't need to. I found myself liking her, although I can't think of anything she said that's of interest.

Hedy Fry
She's a good political speaker - feisty and fun. She started with a weird statement: "Canada is a nation that still has to meet its inherent dignity." But she went on with some crowd-pleasers. She said our secret weapon is our "weapon of mass inclusion". Later she said that we have to have the guts to stand up on the global stage and deal with global warming. She ended her opening remarks by declaring, "I defeated the last Tory Prime Minister!" (That would be Kim Campbell.)

Gerard Kennedy
He was lackluster both in content and delivery. His opening remarks were not great and focused on food bank-type issues, but he got a big response when he said, "Don't let Stephen Harper do to Canada what Mike Harris did to Ontario!" During his response to questions, he also focused on food bank-type issues.

He was writing notes to himself on a folded-up piece of paper and was also holding a water bottle. When he talked he also had to hold a microphone and I got a bit distracted worrying about whether he'd drop the water bottle. He also doesn't enunciate well and swallows some of his words. He came off as inexperienced and unprepared. His French was poor. Everyone I talked to at the convention said that they were disappointed in his performance.

Carolyn Bennett
Her opening remarks were more focused than the last time I saw her speak. She really only addressed one issue, which was about including more people in government and decision-making. Referring to the Chretien/Martin era she said, "What we did was a spectacular record of achievement but how we did it was a disaster." I thought her main idea was a bit confused. She said her goal was to create democracy between elections (great point) but what she seemed to advocate was direct democracy, not more inclusive democracy. In the response to questions she also mostly talked about the direct democracy idea, but she got off on some odd tangents like the taste of the first strawberry in June and her MSN chats.

She talks too quietly and she stumbles over her words somewhat. At one point she went on long after being asked to stop and finally was cut off, which was a downer.

Michael Ignatieff
Ignatieff sounded very intelligent and knowledgeable. I'm a big Ignatieff fan and am always glad of the chance to hear what he has to say. He had a polished political (rather than academic) prepared speech that was quite good, with comments like, "I'm tired of getting into taxi cabs and talking to people who have as many degrees as I do; I want them out of the cab and into the lab" and "We have to be the party that looks over the hill for the jobs of tomorrow." On the environment question, he had a first-rate response, talking about working with the energy sector, increasing carbon sequestration, and championing clean coal technologies. I was also glad to hear him standing up for the record of the Chretien/Martin governments on agricultural policy (it would be easy for him to try to divorce himself from their record). In response to the question on leadership skills, he also had a strong reply: "International experience [which he has tons of] matters... especially against a Prime Minister who barely seems to have been anywhere."

His delivery needs work. He pumped his fists and wagged his finger; it seemed stagey and odd. Although I think he's someone worth listening to, I found his comments a little bit insincere; maybe he feels he's dumbing down his ideas and that makes him awkward.

Bob Rae
Passionate, smart. He used his opening remarks not just to sell himself but to sell some ideas that he obviously believes in strongly. He talked about Kelowna: "The Prime Minister, provincial ministers and aboriginals signed a government-to-government accord. This last week the Prime Minister of Canada said that he did not feel himself to be bound by this accord... it was Premier Campbell in BC who said, When the crown makes a promise the crown should keep the promise!" He said that last week's budget was a focus group budget. He dealt with the need to be prepared for the coming election and declared, "The election starts now!" (I wrote in my notes: Barn burner of a speech! Great speaker! Best of the bunch!")

In response to the question about agriculture, he showed his deep understanding of Canada-US trade issues, and said that the US has the most highly subsidized farming sector in the world, followed by the EU. In response to Harper's strategy, he said "the federal government can't be a cheque-clearing house for the provinces. The federal government has to lead." He also mentioned leadership when he said that leading on Kyoto will not be easy and requires leadership.

He said a few things that other candidates repeated after him: "The election starts now", "None of the people on this platform are my opponents" and an insightful comment about the second set of questions (which were about Kyoto, foreign aid, and education) that all three questions have the same assumptions.

Some other delegates I talked to thought Rae was most effective at the end of his opening remarks, when he got into fist-thumping mode, but I was most taken with the beginning of them, when he evidenced a passionate vision of Canada. His was the only performance that I thought could demolish Stephen Harper and win over the country. I had had an open mind about who should be leader up until this debate; this tipped me over to Rae.

Joe Volpe
Joe Volpe seemed to be suffering from laryngitis or voice strain. For his opening remarks, I'm afraid that I was so excited by Bob's performance right before him that I didn't really listen. In his response to the questions, I found his responses a bit disjointed and lame. For example, re foreign aid he said, "To be truly a world leader our foreign policy must reflect the interests of people... Currently we focus on women, clean water, and health. That's what we need to do." I would suggest that he needs to work on the issues. However, other than not having much voice his delivery was good.

Ken Dryden
He started off by saying, "I have three minutes of things to say and I don't talk very fast." This got a big laugh and from then on the audience was on his side. His opening remarks were great. He said, "The campaign began January 24 and will end about a year from now and we have to win. Losing stinks!" He said we have to win for childcare, aboriginal issues, the environment, and added, "If I was Jack Layton, wouldn't I feel a little squeamy today."

When he responded to questions about child care and education, he had dynamic and intelligent things to say. But for foreign aid he said that Canada is the first truly global country and repeated that a few times. I heard other delegates also puzzling over this one later. I'm guessing he meant that we have a lot of immigrants. (So do lots of other countries.) In the context it didn't make much sense to me.

My complaint about Ken is that he was too low-key for a debate. Also, his mouth was dry and he made a little sticky noise with his lips that I found kind of gross. But he was funny and intelligent and was a hit with the whole audience, as well as with me.
Everyone in the room probably had a different take on the debate. Here are some bloggers who differ from me:
Liberal Leadership Odds
A BCer in Toronto
Cherniak on Politics
All Things Political


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Why I Endorse Bob Rae as Federal Liberal Leader

1. Of all the leadership candidates, Bob Rae is the best choice to revitalize the Liberal party.
2. He has the best chance of winning the next federal election.
3. He has the vision, experience and intelligence to be a great Prime Minister.

Now I'll explain...

I spent this weekend as a delegate at the Annual General Meeting of the federal Liberal party of Ontario. On Friday there was a leadership debate. All ten leadership candidates were there; they started with a brief speech and then answered questions. All the candidates were good, but Bob Rae stood out. His passion and commitment are compelling. Like JFK or Martin Luther King, Rae has the power to draw us in and motivate us to create a better world.

I spent the weekend asking delegates what they thought about the debate and the candidates. There was wide agreement that Rae's performance was the best, but nearly everyone said, He's great but doesn't he carry too much baggage in Ontario? I have been thinking about that, and I think I have an answer.

In the first place, Rae does not have the enormous baggage of being a part of the Liberal party that created the sponsorship scandal. He doesn't have the baggage of letting C02 emissions rise by 30% after pledging to reduce them by 6%. He can articulate a vision for Canada without back-pedaling on why he didn't do anything about it while he had the chance. His record, in that respect, is clean.

Back in 1995, Ontario was pretty mad at Bob Rae. The anger was fuelled by the civil service unions, who were furious that he instituted unpaid days off. But the continent was in the worst recession since the Great Depression and Ontario's deficit was so high that it was driving down our bond rating, which in turn was increasing the cost of borrowing for the province. Rae, like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, is socially progressive and fiscally responsible. Recessions are pretty rough times to govern, and I don't think Rae made any decisions that he has to apologise for.

Despite the turbulence of his time as Premier of Ontario, Rae accomplished a great deal, including:

- 42% of his cabinet was female (that's by far the best ever in Canada)
- he created child care spaces and extended parental leave
- he enacted employment equity and pay equity
- he raised the minimum wage
- he legalized midwives and birthing centers
- he instituted same sex spousal benefits for civil servants
- he enacted pro-labor legislation (including anti-scab laws)

In the 10 years since he was Premier of Ontario, Rae has been very busy. He has taken a leadership role in education, national security, public policy, health, US-Canada trade, international affairs, industry, and the arts. Here's a list:

- Chancellor, Wilfrid Laurier University
- Professor, University of Toronto
- Author, Rae Review on post-secondary education
- Member, Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee
- Founding member and Chair, Forum of Federations
- Author, report on the Air India bombing
- Chief Negotiator, Canadian Red Cross restructuring (after the tainted blood scandal)
- National Spokesperson, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
- Director, Hydro One, Husky, and a bunch of other corporations
- Member, Canadian Internal Trade Disputes Tribunal
- Legal counsel to the Free Trade Lumber Council
- Member, Canada Transportation Act Review
- Member, International Council of the Asia Society
- Chair, Institute for Research on Public Policy
- Chair, Royal Conservatory of Music
- Chair, Toronto Symphony Orchestra
- Author, two books (From Protest to Power and The Three Questions - both great, by the way; I recommend them)

Rae has degrees from the University of Toronto and Oxford. Like Bill Clinton, he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is a lawyer. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario.

He is fluent in French. (According to La Presse, the only Liberal candidates whose French is good enough for a debate are Bob Rae, Michael Ignatieff, St├ęphane Dion and Maurizio Bevilacqua.)

He has federal experience. He was an MP from 1978-82. It was Rae's no-confidence motion that brought down Joe Clark's government in 1979.

In addition to all these qualifications, Rae has proven political instincts and the most powerful political team, including his brother, John Rae, who (among his many accomplishments) was Chretien's campaign manager for two majority governments.

It is true that Rae became a Liberal only recently. However, as an NDPer he was always a centrist and pragmatist. He left the NDP in the late 1990s, and has floated the idea of running as a Liberal MP since then. The Liberal Party is where he belongs, and we are very lucky to have him. As Prime Minister, Bob Rae can help us make Canada the country we have always wanted it to be: economically successful, environmentally responsible, socially progressive, and universally inclusive.

For more info about Bob Rae, see:
CTV interview

This site has a great list of candidate endorsements by bloggers:


Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Two very mysterious things happened after 9/11. One is that Osama bin Laden got away. The other is the lack of progress in the FBI investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks.

In case anyone has forgotten... in the weeks following 9/11, several letters were mailed that all contained the same strain of anthrax. Some, containing a relatively unrefined form that was not deadly, were sent to New York news agencies. Some, containing a more refined and deadly version (some call it "weaponized"), were sent to a tabloid in Florida and two Democratic senators. All in all, five people died and about 20 were sickened.

There has been a lot of speculation about who sent the anthrax and why:

- Arab terrorists sent it to terrorize the country.
- An Anthrax bioresearcher sent it to make the country aware of the threat.
- A US extremist group sent it to get in on the terrorizing of the country.
- Bush supporters sent it to gain access to Democratic offices during their evacuation.
- Bush/Republican/right wing supporters sent it to gain support for the Patriot Act and war in Iraq.

Who knows what the truth is. When al Qaeda bombed the World Trade Towers in 1993 the attempt seemed mammothly incompetent; it may just take them a while to go from prototype to production. Likewise, it's conceivable that a researcher with access to the chemical might have done it, although you'd think that the FBI would have checked out that angle pretty carefully. None of the other theories seem credible.

What is a lot clearer is the effects of the anthrax attack. Coming so quickly after 9/11, it put the country into a state of panic. It created the war-time climate that made it possible for Bush to sell the war in Iraq, and that (in part) got Bush re-elected. It made many Democrats feel that they couldn't oppose Bush's plans in Iraq. It is only in the last few months that the country seems to be emerging from that war-time mindset.

Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post, "The terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit -- or maybe more than a bit. We eventually went into a war that now makes little sense and that, without a doubt, was waged for reasons that simply did not exist. We did so, I think, because we were scared. You could say we lacked judgment. Maybe. I would say we lacked leadership."


State Ambitions

Condoleeza Rice has been much in the news lately. One would expect the US Secretary of State to be much in the news, giving speeches, meeting folks. But Rice's recent presence has been ominous.

She invited the press to her gym to watch her exercise. She invited reporters to listen to her quartet practice. She wrote a piece for Time magazine in praise of Oprah Winfrey.

It looks very much like Rice is going to run for president.

It would be very, very cool to have a black woman as president. But I fear that Rice is weak, and like Bush, we'd have a presidency run by backroom boys with virtually no accountability.

It's possible that the Repubs are putting Rice out there just to jerk Hillary's chain... I guess time will tell.