The Hill Times
Rick Smith
TORONTO—This past week saw dozens of Canadians arrested on the Hill over a proposed new tar sands pipeline—Keystone XL—that would run from Alberta to refineries in Texas. The battle over the pipeline is symbolic of where we find ourselves as a country, and as a species that, unlike other animals, is capable of forward thinking.
At its core, the debate is about whether we will continue to ignore the mounting warnings of climate scientists who tell us we are undermining our life support systems, or whether we will instead embrace the abundant clean energy resources that Canada has in order to rapidly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Some have stated that Keystone XL is needed for Canada’s prosperity, but fail to back this up. This would be an expansion pipeline for the tar sands industry, which already has extra pipeline capacity to grow into. Nobody is asking the fundamental questions of how big the tar sands should get, and for how long until we phase them out, as we must if our children are to have a secure climate.
The failure to ask this question of pace and scale of the tar sands is the root of the ongoing mismanagement of Canada’s energy and climate policy. At current production levels, the tar sands are already driving more than enough economic activity, leading to labour shortages that the oil industry wants to fill with foreign workers.
Policy-makers are also failing to address Canada’s growing case of “Dutch Disease” whereby our dollar now rises and falls with the price of oil. The higher dollar means that exports from other Canadian sectors get priced out of international markets. One study out of the University of Ottawa estimates that more than 40 per cent of the tens of thousands of manufacturing job losses over the past years are due to this dynamic, meaning that “prosperity” for some equates with hardship for many others, notably in Ontario and Quebec. The more our economy is hooked on oil, the worse this problem will get.
And, of course, the failure to ask the pace and scale question also leads to a failure of Canadian climate policy. No credible expert believes that the tar sands can continue to grow and that Canada can meet its stated greenhouse gas pollution reduction targets. Ottawa has repeatedly delayed regulations for this sector, and the media have reported that it is now considering a weak approach that will not actually reduce overall emissions, but only make industry buy the best equipment as it expands.
Ottawa’s mismanagement of climate policy is also matched by its mismanagement of pollution and wildlife policy, all in the name of fevered expansion. The industry is wiping out endangered woodland caribou in the tar sands, yet the federal response does not rein industry in, but instead proposes to kill the wolves in the area. The industry is also increasing the incredibly vast amounts of toxic waste it’s producing, yet rather than plan to reverse the tide, the federal government has instead responded with statements that it will merely monitor things more closely, even while it cuts monitoring budgets.
Ottawa is doing something though. Overseas, it has sprung into action to lobby against progress on climate change in California, Washington, D.C., and the EU, all to defend tar sands oil that could be penalized for being more carbon-intensive than other fuels. Gary Doer, who was once recognized as a green leader in his role as premier of Manitoba, now spends his time as U.S. ambassador defending the industry with vague assertions that things are getting better in the tar sands, contrary to the evidence, and contrary to the inaction from the federal government.
So, where will it end? How much is enough? When will we see decision makers addressing this fundamental question, instead of making excuses for their own shortcomings?
This is why Keystone XL has turned into a line in the sand for those of us who would face up to reality and chart a better future. Some argue that this is just one project and that it doesn’t matter, when in fact they are all single projects, more innocuous by themselves, but devastating in total with others. If we don’t draw the line with Keystone XL, then where? If not now, then when?
Dr. Rick Smith.
news@hilltimes.com
The Hill Times
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Cohn: Time to assess Horwath’s readiness for power
Published On Sat Oct 01 2011
By Martin Regg Cohn
Queen’s Park Columnist
Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats are quietly assembling a team of heavyweight advisers to navigate through two different post-election triumphs: winning power or gaining the balance of power.
Is Ontario ready for another NDP government? Or a minority government dependant on support from New Democrats?
The polls show Horwath getting a second look from voters, with support ranging from 23 to 29 per cent. What she hasn’t yet received is the kind of scrutiny that Liberals and Tories get, because the NDP wasn’t seen as a contender until recently.
The little-known Horwath performed well in the televised leaders’ debate with a feisty style that cast her as an able inquisitor (if improbable premier). But her climb in the polls predates the debate, which may reflect lingering affection for Jack Layton, the party’s late federal leader.
Now, Horwath may be hurtling towards a remarkable upset victory. In 1990, then-NDP leader Bob Rae performed precisely that feat.
Have voters forgotten their bad memories of Rae’s recession-era government? Quite apart from the fact that many of those arguing for political amnesia keep reminding people of the Mike Harris era in the same decade, the legacy of the 1990s still strongly influences Ontario’s political dynamic:
For one thing, the labour movement and the NDP are no longer as one. It began as a union reaction to Rae’s restraint measures; then, a rebellion against Harris’s far harsher measures; and, finally, a rallying behind the Liberals as the most reliable bulwark against Tory rule.
That’s why Canadian Auto Workers’ president Ken Lewenza campaigned alongside Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty during a Thunder Bay stop, but was absent when Horwath showed up on the factory floor 24 hours later. It’s not just some unions that have forsaken Horwath. Much of the environmental movement has rallied to McGuinty’s defence, fretting about backsliding from the New Democrats on green issues.
Environmental icon David Suzuki has endorsed McGuinty’s re-election. Rick Smith, of Environmental Defence, and other green activists have harshly criticized Horwath’s mixed signals on renewable energy (she supports it but sympathizes with those who claim it’s a health hazard). And they consider her crowd-pleasing plan to reduce the HST on gas an environmental heresy. Horwath insists driving is a necessity for commuters (and says it would make Ontario “staycations” more affordable).
The cornerstone of her platform is a plan to restore the corporate tax cuts that McGuinty’s government is phasing in. Instead of a reduction to 10 per cent, she would bring it back up to 14 per cent, providing revenues to pay for NDP campaign promises. But it doesn’t all add up. In mid-campaign, Horwath announced a tuition freeze and declared funding would rise to national levels. But the party never fully explained how post-secondary institutions could afford to make up the difference; nor has the NDP set aside money to pay for its promised increase in per-student funding, a conspicuous omission.
Horwath herself has also gotten away with some loose talk on the campaign trail. During the debate, she blamed McGuinty for the supposedly unprofessional treatment her son had received in a Hamilton hospital, an unexpected example of personal pleading. Later, she couldn’t back up her televised claim that her son’s fractured elbow required a cast on medical grounds.
The NDP leader can also be uneven on the podium. She performed poorly when debating PC Leader Tim Hudak in Thunder Bay. Horwath has a penchant for endearing phrases and gestures, but lapses frequently into earnest platitudes under questioning.
Still, Horwath has made few mistakes in her campaign debut. She has good instincts, even if she lacks the experience of someone like Layton, who had honed his technique over many campaigns.
As voters size her up, they must weigh two questions: Are Horwath and her party up for the job? And is Ontario ready for the added turbulence of minority government while being buffeted by storm clouds on the global economic horizon?