Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Canada - World Leader Follower

Even though a recent poll conducted for The Globe and Mail found that 56% of Canadians want Canada to commit to a new international climate agreement, the Harper government has announced that we will be withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, and will not be entering into any new agreement until at least 2020. Apparently, the 40% of Canadians that voted for Harper represent a majority that the other 60% of us simply can't compete with.

Before confirming that we would be reneging on Kyoto, our Environment Minister, Peter Kent, stated that we would sign another agreement if large carbon emitters such as China, India, and the US also made commitments to reduce their emissions. China called our bluff, and promised to begin reducing its emissions in 2020, so long as the countries that were originally part of Kyoto continued to be so.

Now, I understand that to really battle climate change, the largest polluters need to reduce their emissions. Contrary to what Harper and his cronies believe, however, that doesn't excuse Canada from being a responsible steward of the planet and setting an example for larger emitters. How can a country as rich as Canada expect poorer countries like China and India to take action that we're not willing to take ourselves? Per capita, Canadians produce more emissions than almost any other country. Per person, we produce over 3 times the emissions that China produces, and 14 times the emissions that India produces. It is inevitable that emissions produced in these countries will increase as people in these countries struggle to improve their standard of living.

The developed nations of the world have set the standard of living that the underdeveloped and developing nations are now trying to reach. We cannot condemn anyone for wanting to live as cushy a life as we live here. We have no more right to our comfortable way of life than anybody else. That's not the message our government is sending, though. Harper might as well say, "In order for Canadians to be able to continue living in relative luxury, the underdeveloped and developing world needs to continue to wallow in poverty."

Over half of us want our government to take real steps towards reducing our emissions, even if it costs us more for some goods and services. Our government doesn't give a damn what we want, though. We failed to meet our Kyoto targets, and actually increased our emissions, rather than reducing them. We have no excuse for that. Sweden met their Kyoto target and increased their GDP by 40% at the same time, proving that growing the economy and protecting the environment can and do go hand in hand. The UK surpassed their Kyoto target of an 8% reduction in emissions and actually reduced their emissions by 20%.

The Harper government can make all the excuses it wants. It can blame China, the economy, Trudeau, whatever...the truth is Harper has no intention of taking any more action on climate change than he is forced to. This is a man who gave the Minister of Science and Technology job to a man who doesn't even believe in evolution. Ideology trumps science in Harper's office, the same way that 40% trumps 60%.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I've decided I'm going to stop reading the comments that people post in response to online news articles - they simply make me too angry. I've been researching for some time now the situation in Attawapiskat, Ontario. It's a complicated situation, and unlike the plethora of ignorant commentators that litter every online news site with their trash, I didn't want to write anything until I felt I had a decent grasp on what's really going on. I'm not going to pretend that the grasp I do have is all that firm. It would take years of study before I could even begin to comprehend the profound impact European settlement in this country had, and continues to have, on its indigenous people. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to share the small amount of insight that I have gained.

Attawapiskat is a small, northern Ontario fly-in community of about 1500 people. Of those, 19 families are currently living in tents, 122 families are living in condemned houses, and 96 people are living in a large trailer. Children in Attawapiskat have been attending school in decrepit portables ever since their school was closed in 2000. There was a massive natural gas leak under the school in 1979. Despite complaints that people were getting ill, it took 21 years to close the school. It's been a decade now since the school closed, and there are currently no plans to replace it. The portables the children are now forced to attend school in were built on the same grounds as the original school. Ground shifting due to the natural gas has resulted in damage to the portables. Windows and emergency exits don't open. There are cracks in the walls. There are gaps in the doors, allowing cold air and snow in. It's so cold that children wear their snowsuits in class.

I don't know the solution. I don't even know all the causes. I do know, however, that this would never be allowed to happen elsewhere (except for other reserves). People like to simplify the problem, blaming the residents of reserves. It's easy to say that they misspent the money given them by the government, wipe our hands, and forget about it. We all know, though, that it really isn't that simple.

Families in Attawapiskat receive the same amount of money per household as families on any other reserve. Their remote location is in no way taken into account by the government. So while families on reserves in southern Ontario are capable of building suitable homes, families in Attawapiskat are forced to build poorly-insulated homes on wooden foundations. It's simply too expensive to ship in supplies, and to fly in contractors and inspectors. The forests surrounding Attawapiskat are now Crown land and cannot be used for lumber, hunting, or trapping. Essentially, we've placed these people on this remote piece of land and taken from them their means of survival.

These are people who thrived on this land for thousands of years, living a nomadic lifestyle, following the game and trap lines, before we arrived. But go ahead and place the blame on them...

Goodbye Canada - Hello Harperland

It's old news that Stephen Harper, our oh-so-humble Prime Minister, took it upon himself to replace all the portraits of former Prime Ministers in the lobby of the House of Commons with portraits of himself. It's also old news that government communications have been replacing the phrase "Government of Canada" with "Harper Government". Harper and his spokespeople have vehemently denied that this change was directed by Harper or his office. Documents recently acquired by The Canadian Press suggest otherwise.

It's also old news that our Defense Minister, Peter MacKay, used a search-and-rescue helicopter as a personal taxi last year while on a fishing trip. MacKay has defended his use of the helicopter, claiming that he was being shown its search-and-rescue capabilities. The cost of the 25-minute "demonstration" was $16 000. When MacKay sent out the request for the helicopter to pick him up, according to The Star, his plans sent "military personnel in three provinces scrambling" to accommodate the unplanned flight. Colonel Bruce Ploughman, who was the director of the Combined Aerospace Operations Centre at the time, warned that MacKay's personal use of the military aircraft would result in backlash from the public. He wrote to colleagues, "So, when the guy who's fishing at the fishing hole next to the minister sees the big yellow helicopter arrive and decides to use his cellphone to video the minster getting on board and post it on Youtube, who will be answering the mail on that one?" He continues, "If we are tasked to do this we, of course, will comply. Given the potential for negative press, though, I would likely recommend against it."

Even older news is Tony Clement's gross misdirection of $50 million in border funds to "beautify" his riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka for the G8 summit in 2009. In an attempt to absolve himself of any responsibility, Clement has consistently claimed that he was not involved in approving any of the projects carried out in his riding. Not surprisingly, documents show otherwise. Obtained through freedom-of-information legislation, new documents show that Clement's office was responsible for approving projects costing nearly $45 million. According to The Star, Clement's office actually "edited an official parliamentary transcript, in an effort to hide a trail of documents showing he directed how $50 million in G8 funds should be spent in his riding." Tony Clement is now the Treasury Board President - he's in charge of our money.

So much for the transparent, accountable government Harper campaigned on. Clearly, our megalomaniacal Prime Minister and his lackeys are going to do things their way, the rest of us be damned. Harper wasn't joking when he said, "You won't recognize Canada when I get through with it."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Open Letter to the MPPs of Ontario

Dear Members of Provincial Parliament,

I am afraid that the province of Ontario is making a grievous mistake by denying Ontarian's the right to choose for consumption, the foods that are best for them and their families. The persecution of Michael Schmidt for distributing raw milk to educated consumers has the potential to send food policy in Ontario further down a slippery slope that benefits none but industrial food processors.

I would like to know why it is that I, or anyone else, can legally purchase tobacco products, alcohol, and a myriad of food products laced with high fructose corn syrup, all of which pose detrimental health risks, but cannot legally purchase raw milk from a clean, local operation. I'm not entirely sure how my interests as a consumer are being protected through the vilification of a small-scale local farmer whose products have yet to harm a single person.

Please do not provide me with a history of raw milk contamination statistics. The number of reported illnesses associated with the consumption of raw milk pale in comparison to the number of reported illnesses associated with the consumption of products that government food inspectors and food policies have deemed safe. In the past month alone, I have personally had to return both walnuts and tahini to my local grocery store, because they had possibly been contaminated with e. coli and salmonella.

Regulations and inspections are not solutions for a flawed food system that puts consumers at risk. Food safety policy does more to protect industry than it does to protect consumers. Who is liable when tainted meat from a government-approved processing facility harms, or even kills someone? Industry is absolved of responsibility because, after all, they passed their inspections. There's no real consequence and no incentive for companies to implement cleaner and safer practices. True food safety and security can only be attained through the promotion of transparent, local food sources.

As a representative of the electorate, it is your responsibility to protect the interests of the public, not the interests of the private, industrialized food sector. Canadians are capable of making smart decisions for themselves and their families. Please protect our freedom to do so.

Thank you sincerely for your time,
Chad Roberts

Food Freedom for All

Think you have the right to choose what foods you and your family consume? Not according to the Ontario Court of Justice, you don't.

Michael Schmidt, an organic raw milk farmer, was recently convicted of 15 provincial offences related to the distribution of organic raw milk through a cowshare program at his Durham, Ontario farm. Because the commercial sale of raw milk is illegal in Canada, members of the program purchase shares in cows. It is not illegal to drink raw milk from your own cows. In 2010, the Ontario Court of Justice acquitted Mr. Schmidt of all the charges laid against him. The court's decision was appealed and in September 2011, the court found Mr. Schmidt guilty of 15 out of the 19 charges. In doing so, the Ontario Court of Justice has set a very dangerous precedent.

What's next? Will breast feeding mothers no longer be able to purchase breast pumps and store their breast milk? It's raw, after all. Will all organic produce and meat soon be illegal because it isn't subject to the sterilizing chlorine baths that conventional foods are subject to? Or will raw food be outlawed altogether? After all, large-scale industrial production of food results in numerous outbreaks of food-related illness every single year. And that's precisely why we have all of these food regulations - to protect consumers from the health risks that arose as a result of centralizing and industrializing food production. Before Big Food there was little to no risk associated with the foods we ate. Farmer Schmidt is being persecuted by laws that were meant to protect consumers from food production practices that are the polar opposite of the practices employed on his farm.

There's a lot of debate going on about the health benefits of raw milk in comparison to the risks. I'm inclined to believe that the benefits far outweigh the risks, especially considering that not one person has become ill from consuming the milk distributed by Mr. Schmidt, or by larger raw milk producers in the U.S. According to the Campaign for Real Milk: Pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. 

Whichever side of the benefits vs. risks debate you're on, however, isn't really relevant. Very few of us would argue that tobacco, alcohol, or high fructose corn syrup are good for us. In fact, these three legal substances cause much more sickness and death than has ever been attributed to the consumption of raw milk. But we're free to consume them, if we so choose. So what's the difference between these substances, which have been proven to cause numerous health problems, and raw milk, which has been successfully administered therapeutically to combat such ailments as asthma and allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis? Well, for starters, tobacco, alcohol, and high fructose corn syrup are all members of the Big Business Club. So is conventional milk, for that matter. It should come as no surprise that food regulations, more often than not, support Big Food and undermine small-scale, local production. Big Food has the power and money to lobby the government and push out alternatives that they perceive as a threat. Local food is one of those alternatives.

We can all stand up for our right to consume the foods that we deem best for ourselves and our families. Michael Schmidt is currently on his 25th day of a hunger strike, awaiting the opportunity to sit down with Dalton McGuinty and plead his case. Support Mr. Schmidt's fight to protect or food freedom by joining the Support Michael Schmidt! Facebook group. Go a bit further and write a letter to your MP, MPP, the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and Premier McGuinty himself. Remind our government officials that Canada is the only G8 country to outlaw raw milk, and that the freedom to choose the foods we consume is more important than policies that serve only to protect the interests of Big Food.

You can keep up with Michael Schmidt's battle for our food freedom here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It Doesn't Always Get Better

Suicide is the second most common cause of death in the teenage population. Suicide rates are significantly higher among gay teenagers, most of whom are subject to relentless bullying. The 'It Gets Better Project', a worldwide campaign aimed at decreasing the rate of gay teen suicide, while applaudable, does little to address the immediate concerns of tormented teenagers and, in many cases, is just plain wrong. The fact is: it doesn't always get better.

I came across two articles in the news today. One was about an openly gay man in Scotland who was tied to a lamppost, beaten, and burned alive. It clearly didn't get better for him. The other story was about a gay Ontario couple who were asked to leave a Tim Hortons coffee shop because other customers were offended when one of the two women wrapped her arms around the other's waist, then proceeded to give her a kiss on the cheek. Doesn't really seem that it's getting better for this couple, either.

In Ottawa, Jamie Hubley, aged 15 and openly gay, recently took his own life. Shortly before committing suicide, Jamie wrote on his blog, "I don't want to wait three more years, this hurts too much. How do you even know it will get better. It's not." Jamie hit the nail right on the head. How could he possibly believe it would get better when, so often, it doesn't?

Instead of urging these kids to simply wait it out, something needs to be done to immediately address the very valid concerns of these abused children. Ideally, adults would begin by actually acting like adults and providing children with proper examples to follow. We all know that isn't going to happen, though. Bigots breed bigots. So the rest of us need to step up and demand that our children, whether it's because of their sexuality, race, religion, size, whatever, are not subject to bullying.

Parents of bullied children frequently attempt to solve the problem by putting their children in a different school, or switching to a private school. Some even end up homeschooling, after realizing that the school system isn't willing to put in the effort required to solve this problem. These families shouldn't have to jump through hoops. Instead, bullies should be removed from schools. It should be up to the parents of bullies to find and pay for alternative schooling. If parents were forced to foot the bill for sending their intolerant offspring off to Bozo's Backward School of Bullying and Bigotry, maybe they'd be a bit more inclined to properly parent their children.

No matter what, though, bullying in schools isn't going anywhere until we stop accepting bullying in the adult world. We're represented in Ottawa by a majority government that hasn't supported a single gay rights issue, and that has cut funding to gay pride events nationwide. Poor John Baird can't even come out of the closet, lest he incur the wrath of his party and its followers. And when Conservative MPs in the House of Commons feel its appropriate to mock the Opposition for being "impotent" to stand in the way of their poor decisions, it's clear that bullying is a problem from the top straight down to the bottom.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Believe in Yesterday

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. I love old movies and old houses. I'd rather play cards or a board game than play a video game, and I'd rather read a book than watch television. More than anything, I want to live a simple life, on a little farm where I can grow most of my family's food and be as self-sufficient as possible - just like the "good ol' days".

People think I'm nuts. I think life today is nuts.

Did you know that the average house in 1950 cost $7500 ($70 000 today) and the average annual household income was $4200 ($40 000 today)? Today the average household income is just under $70 000 and the average cost of a house is over $350 000. Most families in 1950 had one income and most families today have two incomes, so a house in 1950 cost one person less than 2 year's pay, and a house today costs two people more than 5 year's pay.

Does that make sense? Is that progress?

You'd think that with all the technological advances in the past 60 years that, if anything, it would cost less to buy a home, not more. Isn't that the point in progress - to make life better, and therefore more affordable? Not much is cheaper today than it was 60 years ago, though, and it can be argued persuasively that the few things that are cheaper, shouldn't be. Energy is cheaper. Meat is cheaper. Grains are cheaper. Now, I'm not saying that we don't need energy, meat, or grains. Quite the contrary. We just don't need as much of them as we have. Overproduction and over-consumption of all three are destroying our bodies and the planet.

That average household from 1950 managed to put away about $420 a year in savings - might not seem like much, but it was 10% of the household's annual income. Not very many families today can afford to put away 10% of their income.

A modern "farm"
Before 1950, we ate less, but we ate real food, and we were healthier for it. The supermarket didn't exist until 1947, so we grew our own fruits and vegetables, and we bought what we couldn't grow or raise from a farmer. Farms weren't monocultural wastelands devoid of human presence. They grew grass (real grass, not what's on your lawn), grains (just a little bit), fruits and vegetables, and raised cows, pigs, and chickens all on one property. We were connected to our food and to each other. We knew where our food was coming from and we could see its production with our own eyes - now that's transparency. We don't even know where our food comes from anymore, other than its country of origin. We certainly have no connection to it or to the people who produce it for us. It's not normal that our government bans the sale of raw milk while we're all slurping down Coca Cola as fast we can.

Sure, life was tough before 1950. People worked harder for less, but I would argue that they were better people for it. I doubt a child today learns more from watching television or playing video games than a child before 1950 learned from doing farm and household chores. I would even go so far as to say that a child today learns much less. Imagine how much a child must have learned about the real world by assisting in the production of food, whether it be on a farm, in a kitchen, or in a kitchen garden. Without television and video games, children had to be creative in the ways that they entertained themselves, and therefore, were forced to better develop their imaginations and critical thinking skills.

I doubt anyone will argue with me when I say that we are much more disengaged today than we were before 1950. Voter turnout is proof of that. Some will say that politicians are worse today than they were before 1950 and that's the reason so few of us vote. I would say that politicians are worse today because so few of us vote. We can't expect to be properly represented by a government that we don't vote for. Political parties are in the business of winning elections. Most parties pander to the concerns of older electors, because older electors actually bother to vote. If young people started voting, the parties would start pandering to them, too. 

But we're not just disengaged from politics and our democratic responsibilities - we're disengaged from each other. Cheap gas allows us to live further away from our families, and most families aren't as close-knit as they once were. We don't know our neighbours anymore. When was the last time the nice neighbour lady from down the street dropped by for tea or left a pie on your doorstep? We're terrified of letting our kids play outside by themselves, because God knows who or what is out there. And if the nice neighbour ladies from down the street did happen to leave pies on our doorsteps every once in awhile, most of us would toss them in the garbage. They could be full of poision, after all.

A new growth index was released in Canada today. It's called the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), and it's supposed to be a better indicator of the quality of life enjoyed by Canadians than the GDP, which is based solely on the economy. The CIW measures numerous indicators of wellbeing, including democratic engagement, community vitality, education, environment, health, leisure and culture, living standards, and time use. According to the CIW, Canada's GDP has grown 31% since 1994, but our standard of living has only grown by 11% in the same period of time. What this means is that the benefits of economic growth are not being enjoyed by the average Canadian.

While there are fewer of us unemployed than there were in 1994, job security has decreased, and the cost of living has grown.

Our life expectancy has gone up a little, but we now suffer from more health problems and live fewer years of our lives in good health. I'd rather die at 70 and enjoy every one of those years, than die at 80 and only be healthy enough to enjoy 60 of them, wouldn't you?

We take more long-distance trips today than we did in 1994, but visits to our National Parks and Historic Sites are down by over 20%.

We spend more on cultural and recreational activities, but spend less time enjoying these activities. 

We volunteer less, but watch television and play video games more.

We spend more time in educational institutions, but are somehow less educated, and less capable of finding jobs relevant to our degrees than the generations before us.

Our greenhouse gas emissions have gone up 15%, the health of our fisheries has declined by over 5%, and there is over 3% more smog in our cities. Even worse, our grade on the Canadian Living Planet Index has decreased by nearly 24%. Of the 130 countries measured, we ranked as having the 7th largest ecological footprint (per capita). If every person on Earth was to live like the average Canadian lives, we would need 4 planets just to maintain life as it is for us today.

The CIW Network is an independent, non-partisan group based out of the University of Waterloo. The data they've collected and compiled is from reliable sources, including the Government of Canada (I refuse to call it the Harper Government of Canada, no matter how much our PM insists). 

It's kinda nice when my ideas are supported by statistics.

Still think I'm nuts?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Selfish Environmentalist

When I started this blog, I decided it would focus mostly on Canadian politics and environmental issues - those being the two subject areas that tend to interest me the most. So far, I've really only focussed on politics, but I attribute that to the recent election here in Ontario. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that this blog should remain what it is - a commentary on social and political issues in Canada. Environmental issues are very often connected to the social and political issues we face here, so I am certain that there will be frequent mention of these issues on this blog, when appropriate and relevant. Since environmental issues are local, national, and global, I've decided to keep this blog focussed the way it is, and simply start another blog dedicated to environmental issues. It can be found here. Below is the first entry:

As a member of the Green Party, I was recently asked to complete a survey for a university student studying members of environmental organizations. This student is attempting to figure out what motivates people to join environmental organizations, as well as identify what beliefs and values members of these organizations have in common. It was a pretty long survey, and it really got me thinking about just how much my mentality has changed since I started to take an interest in environmental issues. It also reminded my why I became interested in the first place, and I realized that, rather than just diving into writing a blog about environmental issues, that it'd probably be better if I first explained how and why I became an environmentalist in the first place. So here it is:

I didn't become interested in environmental issues until my wife was pregnant with our daughter, Olive. Before her pregnancy, I was very much aware of the environmental issues that this and future generations will have to face, but I had convinced myself that there wasn't anything I could do about it - that I might as well just live my life like every other average person. I figured that the sooner the human species wiped itself out, the sooner the planet could start healing itself. 

Becoming a parent changed everything for me. 

Becoming an environmentalist was purely accidental, however. 

While my wife was pregnant, I began voraciously reading every piece of literature on children's health I could get my hands on. I was pretty nervous about being responsible for the life of another human being, and figured that since knowledge is power, I'd better start arming myself. The more I learned about the toxic chemicals that we expose ourselves to every day, and their impact not only on ourselves, but on the environment, the more I realized how desperately things needed to change. I guess you could call me a selfish environmentalist. Yes, I care about polar bears and the boreal forest, but first and foremost, I care about my family's health. The beautiful thing about it, though, is that it's all connected. The same things that are bad for our health are bad for the environment. There's no separating the two. Canadians consistently rank health care as their number one priority (economy takes the top spot when there's a recession), but the environment is lucky to make it in the top five. This baffles me. The greatest health care is preventative, and we could prevent so much sickness and disease by protecting the environment that surrounds us. Imagine how much health care costs could be cut if the government would ensure that our air and drinking water were cleaner, or that the foods we consume weren't filled with unhealthy additives or coated in pesticide and fertilizer. We are animals, and like every other animal, our health is connected to the health of the environment we live in. By healing the planet, we heal ourselves.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

So my wife was pregnant. Her hormones were all out of whack, she was nervous about becoming a mother, and on top of that and all of life's usual daily stresses, here I am educating myself (and her) on all the countless ways we're killing ourselves (and our unborn child). I'm sure she was just delighted. I'm pretty sure that she also thought I had lost my mind, especially when I announced that our home was going chemical-free. Luckily, she came around quickly. She's still not too keen on the idea of getting composting toilets, but once again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

We started small. First we purged - got rid of all the toxic cleaners and cosmetics. I started making cleaning supplies from scratch, using ingredients that won't kill the planet or a curious toddler. My wife realized that she had way more make-up than she needed, and replaced the "essentials" with healthy alternatives. We replaced our shampoo, conditioner, soaps, deodorants, shaving lotions, etc. with chemical-free, earth-friendly alternatives. Believe it or not, we're cleaner for it, too. There's nothing clean about lathering yourself up in carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting chemicals. 

It kinda ballooned from there. We started avoiding plastic as much as we could, we started cooking more, instead of relying on additive-, pesticide-, and fertilizer-soaked foods, and we replaced our clay cat litter with a biodegradable pine litter (it's more absorbent and smells better, too). I'm sure I'm forgetting numerous switches we made (oh, switching to unbleached, 100% recycled paper products was one) but the product switches aren't really the point. You can switch everything you purchase over to an earth-friendly version and still be contributing plenty to climate change. The most important thing is reducing our consumption. Sounds pretty scary, I'm sure. People don't so much like the word "less" nowadays. Not in a culture where bigger and more are always better. Gotta upsize the fries you pick up in your V8 SUV on your way home from work to your 4000 square foot "house" in the 'burbs, right? We seem to have forgotten that less is more. 

Shoot, here I am, getting ahead of myself again.

So our daughter was born, just about 2 1/2 years ago. She came a month early, but we had successfully detoxified our home and our lives. My wife and I are both allergy sufferers (me more so than her) and we both have asthma (her more so than me). Any offspring we create have an increased risk of becoming allergy sufferers and asthmatics, and exposure to chemicals greatly increase those risks. So if for nothing other than for our daughter's health, greening our home was well worth it. 

During the process, though, something funny happened - I started to care about more than just my own home. I think that, like the Grinch, my heart must have grown three sizes - not all in one day, mind you, but over the course of an 8-month pregnancy. Cleaning up my home was no longer enough. After all, my children can't just stay at home their entire lives, and they certainly can't stay in my home forever (as much as I sometimes think I would like them to). And what about my grandchildren? I doubt many people in their twenties consider the lives their grandchildren will lead, but I consider it on pretty much a daily basis. I want my children and their children (and so on) to be able to live happy and healthy lives. 

And that is why I am an environmentalist. 

I'm not a hippie. I don't have dreadlocks. There aren't crystals on my night stand. I don't believe in fairies, and I don't dance naked under the moon (although that sounds like it could be fun). I still respect people who fit these descriptions, however - I just don't appreciate being drawn as a stereotypical caricature of a "greenie". I don't believe that every Conservative has missing teeth and a shotgun in the back of his pick-up truck, or that every Liberal is a pampered member of the Ivy League, or that every supporter of the NDP is a commie. Stereotypes make it too easy to disrespect and ignore each other. With the economic, social, and environmental issues that face this and the coming generations, the last thing we can afford to do is to ignore each other. The problems we face need to be acknowledged and addressed by all of us if we are to find and implement solutions to them. To work together, though, we need to actually get together - to get to know each other. I think we'll realize that we have a lot more in common than we think. And even if we don't, there is one thing we all have in common: we all love our children. I'm sure we can all agree that, as parents, it is our responsibility to protect our children's interests before protecting our own. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Call Me the Taxman

I love taxes. I really do. Obviously, I would also love to have a bit of extra money in my bank account - wouldn't we all - but I would much rather help fund health care, education, and all the other tax-dependent services that make Canada one of the best countries in the world to live in. 

I'm frequently surprised, more so during elections, at just how many Canadians jump on the anti-tax bandwagon with no real idea of how lower taxes will impact themselves and society as a whole. You can't just lower taxes and expect to receive the same level of service you received when paying higher taxes. But we don't want the same level of service, do we? No, we want more and better service, and all for a cheaper price. We want shorter wait times at hospitals and more family doctors, smaller class sizes and full-day kindergarten, better roads, more long-term care spaces for the elderly, better environmental stewardship, the list goes on and on. The problem is you can't get more for less, without sacrificing quality.

Here's how our federal tax dollars were spent in 2010:
And our provincial tax dollars:

Both federally and provincially, income taxes are the biggest contributor to the tax base, followed by sales and corporate taxes.

One can argue that if taxes were spent more efficiently we could afford to lower them. As Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto has wonderfully demonstrated, this "gravy" is very much non-existent. If Toronto, the wealthiest city in Ontario, can't cut spending without cutting services like libraries and police, it's doubtful than many other municipalities, if any at all, can find this so-called "gravy," either.

Statistics show that the George W. Bush era of tax cuts in the Untied States has contributed more to the country's debt than the economic downturn, recovery measures (bailouts and economic stimulus), and the war for oil (oops...I mean on terrorism). The fact that economists denounce the reduction of the GST in Canada (which voters support), and support the HST (which voters denounce) is truly worrisome and indicative that Canadians' attitudes toward taxes are beginning to mirror those of our neighbours to the south. 

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, based on estimates from Congressional Budget Office
Taxes are an investment in our future - in our children's and grandchildren's futures. Yet taxes have been continuously reduced in Canada for the past decade, while our provincial and federal deficits and debts soar. Health expenditures, as seen above, require the most funding from the tax base, and their share of the pie is only going to grow. Our society is aging, and our youth are experiencing more health problems now than they have in the past century. As health care costs consume more and more of our taxes, are we going to be willing to cut spending on education, justice, social programs, national security and sovereignty, and other essential services to keep up? I doubt it, but without a healthier tax base, that's precisely what will happen.

We need a better tax system. Corporations and the wealthy need to pay more. Carbon taxes should replace a good portion of income taxes. The GST needs to be returned to an appropriate level. The reduction of the GST (which reduces government revenue by over $13 billion a year) was nothing more than a bribe - one of Harper's many ways of buying votes. Any politician with half a brain knows that reducing sales taxes is not good economic policy. It's not only insulting, but it's downright deplorable that the Prime Minister of our country misleads Canadians and promotes political and economic ignorance by promoting flawed policies simply to improve his chances at election. Ask yourself this: who does sales tax reduction really help? It doesn't do much to help the average Canadian who can't afford to go shopping at the mall every week. A 2% reduction in sales tax does, however, mean a lot to an already under-income-taxed wealthy Canadian who can afford a $1000 pair of shoes and a $100 000 luxury sedan. Reductions in corporate and sales taxes help the rich more than the poor. Period.

Best Buds
Income disparity (the gap between the rich and the poor) is now growing more quickly in Canada than in the United States. While the average Canadian is very lucky to enjoy a better standard of living than the average American, as our social and economic policies continue to mimic American policies, our standard of living is quickly joining the Americans' in a race to the bottom. 

According to Alex Himelfarb, Director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs, at York University, former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, "It is time to make some hard choices about the Canada we want, about what services we see as essential, about how much inequality we are prepared to tolerate, about our willingness to take back the future."

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Voter turnout in Canada is abysmal. Barely 50% of the electorate voted in the last provincial election, and this election voter turnout is expected to drop below 50%. It is every eligible voter's civic responsibility to vote. Without a public that is actively engaged in the political process, democracy cannot function as intended. We cannot expect to be properly represented by our elected government if we don't engage ourselves and fulfill our responsibilities as citizens lucky enough to live in a democratic nation like Canada. Polls are open from 9 to 9 today. All you need to vote is a piece of ID with your name and address on it - a piece of mail works fine, too. To find out where and how to vote, go to

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

McGuinty - The Best Choice for Ontario

Tomorrow is election day in Ontario. It's been a pretty boring election campaign, but that shouldn't lead anyone to believe that this isn't an important election. Ontario is at a crossroads. Will we mirror the federal election and reward a Conservative for running a hateful campaign, full of fear mongering and lies, or will we follow in the steps of our fellow provinces and elect a progressive party to counterbalance the Conservative ideology that is running rampant in Ottawa?

I'm no Liberal - let me make that clear. I'm a card-carrying member of the Green Party, and as much as it pains me to admit it, voting for the party that I love and believe in whole-heartedly just doesn't make sense in an election as close as this one is expected to be. So I am throwing my support behind the party in my riding that has the best chance of beating the Conservative candidate.

Ontario cannot afford a Conservative government. No, I'm not talking about taxes. I'm talking about something more important than that - our entire way of life. I don't want our health care system to be run by a party that fired 6000 nurses and closed 28 hospitals the last time they were in power. I don't want our education system to be run by a man who believes kids should be learning their ABCs and how to tie their shoes in the first grade - children should know their ABCs before the first grade, and it's up to parents, not teachers, to teach children how to tie their shoes. I don't want our economy to be run by a man that promises to tear up a contract that commits a foreign company to investing $7 billion in Ontario in exchange for $4 million a year. I don't want the future of public transit to be in the hands of a party that believes creating more roads is the answer to traffic congestion. And I most definitely don't want our renewable energy sector dismantled by a party that still refuses to acknowledge climate change as a real issue.

I'm not putting McGuinty or his party on a pedestal. They've made mistakes, and I'm sure they will make more. Running a province the size of Ontario is anything but easy, but the Liberals have done a good job these past 8 years, especially considering that they got us through the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Believe it or not, Ontario has bounced back from the recession more successfully than the rest of Canada. We've recouped each job lost during the recession, and so far this year Ontario created more full-time jobs than the rest of the country combined. Forbes named Canada the best country in the world to do business in, and credited the Ontario Liberals for the country's leap from 4th place to 1st in their ratings. Note the picture of solar panel production accompanying this article. After California, we're the second most popular region for foreign investment in North America. Imagine how that reputation would be damaged if Hudak was given the opportunity to tear up the $7 billion Samsung contract.

McGuinty - the "Education Premier"
Every nurse fired by Mike Harris (with the support of Hudak and his wife) has been reclaimed. The Liberals have actually hired 11 500 nurses, more than making up for the 6000 that were fired during the Harris/Eve years. Ontario has 18 more hospitals, and 1.3 million more Ontarians have a family doctor today than 8 years ago. We have the shortest hospital wait times in the country.

The Liberal Party has transformed Ontario's public education system into one that is the envy of the world. We now have 400 more schools (with another 150 on the way), 12 000 more teachers, 11 000 more support staff, and smaller class sizes. More students are graduating from high school - over 80% in 2009-2010, up from 60% in 2002-2003, the year before the Liberals took office. EQAO test scores have improved - 15% more third and sixth grade students now perform at or above the provincial standard in reading, writing, and mathematics than did in 2002-2003. The introduction of full-day kindergarten is especially beneficial to children with two working parents, as they no longer have to be shuffled between school and daycare. The Liberals have also given school boards more power to make their own decisions, allowing them to cater their services to local needs and address the issues that are most important to their students.

Internationally, Ontario is considered a leader in business, health care, and education. While North America is lagging behind most of the developed world in regards to the development of renewable energy, Ontario is currently leading the way in North America. A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a step backward. To be competitive in a global market, we need to be investing in renewable energy now. We can't wait until every other developed country in the world is charging carbon tariffs to revamp our system - we won't be able to afford it on top of the tariffs we'll be paying for the dirty energy our businesses use.

The Liberal Party of Ontario has a vision for the future. The Conservative Party of Ontario doesn't. Whether you agree with me or not, I implore you to vote tomorrow. After all, a true democracy requires democratic citizens.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Coalition is Not a Four-Letter Word

Tim Hudak
Let the fear mongering begin...or continue, at least.

Tim Hudak is "worried" that if his party wins the most seats on October 6th, but doesn't win a majority, that the other two parties who, together, would represent the majority of Ontarians, will make a "back-room deal" and form a coalition government.

Do not let this tactic fool you. Coalition governments are not only a legitimate facet of parliamentary democracies, but an integral one. When one party does not win the confidence of the majority of voters, but a coalition of two or more parties would better represent the electorate, a coalition is a viable, and oftentimes, a preferred arrangement that can best serve the majority of voters.

Thanks to Stephen Harper's efforts to manipulate Canadians in the 2008 federal election, many of us now believe that there is something shady about coalition governments. I assure you that there isn't. Many countries around the world are governed by coalition governments, and many of them function very well. The UK currently has a coalition government, as do Finland, Germany, Belgium, and India, among others. Finland has actually been governed by coalition governments since 1917.

This really isn't about coalition governments, though. Before the election campaign began, Tim Hudak had been the frontrunner in every single poll for months. His election was all but assured. Since the campaign began, however, Hudak's popularity has plummeted, and in most polls, McGuinty is now slightly ahead. So what's a desperate Conservative politician to do? Pull out the coalition card, of course! Instead of appealing to reason, Conservatives consistently play to the very fears, biases, and misconceptions that they themselves have promoted, and in some cases, created.

Each and every Canadian should be insulted by this widespread effort to misinform us. How can we possibly trust a political party that actively seeks to limit our knowledge of the political process?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

PMO Meddling in Ontario's Provincial Election

Two members of the PMO have made the news this week for interfering in the Ontario provincial election.

Nigel Wright
Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, hosted a fundraiser for a Toronto PC candidate in his Toronto home. Oddly enough, it was Wright who authored the memo from the PMO urging members of the Conservative caucus to avoid "becoming the story" in the 4 provincial elections that are underway this fall.

Dean Del Mastro, Harper's parliamentary secretary, actually commissioned a poll in his Peterborough riding. While Del Mastro claims that his poll wasn't conducted with any intention of affecting the election in his riding, it's pretty hard to believe that a politician isn't aware of the impact that polls can have on the voting process. The two questions posed in Del Mastro's poll were undeniably partisan:

Dean Del Mastro
“Given that jurisdictions like the United States and Europe have invested billions of dollars trying to create green jobs with disappointing results, do you believe that the $7 billion Samsung deal will create 16,000 jobs in Ontario?”

“Given that families and seniors are struggling today in Ontario, do you support eliminating HST from energy bills as well as income-splitting for families to reduce their provincial tax burden?”

In addition to his poll, Del Mastro has appeared at numerous functions in support of Peterborough's Conservative candidate. He has also attacked the Liberal Party of Ontario's platform on his Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Stephen Harper and Rob Ford
on August 2, 2011
Clearly, the PMO doesn't practice what it preaches. Harper himself set the stage for these egregious interferences in political politics when he attended a barbecue hosted by Rob Ford in August. After applauding Rob Ford's "accomplishments" as mayor of Toronto, and patting himself on the back for cleaning up the "left-wing mess federally", Harper expressed his hope to "complete the hat trick" in the October 6 Ontario provincial election.

What really bothers me is that Harper didn't advise his caucus not to involve themselves in this fall's provincial elections. He basically told them to interfere all they wanted - just to be sneaky about it to avoid "becoming the story". So much for that, eh?

Parliament's Most Frequent Flyer Award Goes To...

Peter MacKay
Peter MacKay, our Minister of National Defence, likes to travel in luxury. He just doesn't like to pay for it.

Since 2008, MacKay has cost taxpayers $2.9 million for his use of Challenger jets. He's used the jets more than our current and former Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and even uses the jets more than Jim Flaherty, our Minister of Finance, who has to travel around the globe pretty frequently to attend economic meetings.

MacKay's spokesperson defended MacKay's use of the military jets, stating that 50% of his flights were taken to attend to the returns of fallen soldiers. MacKay has used the jets on 35 occasions since 2008. Of those 35 occasions, 25 were for travel within Canada. Reports show that MacKay used the jets 9 times to attend to the repatriation of fallen soldiers. In my books, 9 out of 35 uses equals something more like 25% than the 50% that MacKay's spokesperson is claiming. Then again, Tories seem to practice a different form of mathematics than the rest of us.

A Challenger jet
I get that being an elected official comes with some perks. Don't get me wrong - I'm not entirely against these perks. But I don't think that any politician, other than our PM, needs to be using military jets to travel within Canada. Cabinet ministers are supposed to use commercial flights whenever possible.

The rules, however, don't seem to apply to MacKay. He is also under fire for violating conflict of interest code for a vacation he took in the summer of 2010 to the Burnt Rattle Fishing Camp. MacKay refused to disclose the identity of the camp's owner, but it later surfaced that the camp is owned by Rob Crosbie, chairman of Marine Atlantic, a Crown corporation. The cherry on the cake - MacKay commissioned a Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopter to pick him up from the camp and deliver him to the Challenger jet he then used to return from his vacation.

Update: Harper himself has now defended MacKay in the House of Commons, citing the same erroneous statistics that MacKay's spokesperson cited. Using fallen soldiers to hide behind...pretty classy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stephen Harper - The Anti-Robin Hood

Tony Clement and Stephen Harper
Tony Clement's slush fund is once again making a splash in the news. After days of refusing to answer questions during Question Period in regards to the $50 million that was misspent in his riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka for the 2010 G8 Summit, Clement has announced that he will field questions in a parliamentary committee. Let's forget for now that the committee consists of 7 Conservatives, 4 NDPs, and 1 Liberal. What I want to talk about is Stephen Harper.

I've been hearing a lot from Conservative supporters that this $50 million isn't that big of a deal. After all, remember AdScam? I do. $3.75 million in misappropriated funds. Doesn't seem like that much money compared to $50 million. Harper rode the AdScam wave all the way to the PMO. Remember his cries for transparency and integrity in government? Where are they now? Paul Martin launched a full inquiry into the sponsorship scandal. I don't see Harper following suit and giving Canadians the transparency and honesty that they deserve, or that he promised.

"Oh, but every riding received stimulus money to help weather the recession." True. The average riding received between $15 and $20 million in stimulus funds. In addition to the $50 million in G8 funds, Parry Sound Muskoka received $42 million in stimulus funds, over twice the national average, for a grand total of $92 million in government funding in 2010 - over 4 times the national average.

Now, let's look at the amount of money that other cities have received in summit funding in the recent past. In 2002, Kananaskis, Alberta hosted a G8 summit. The city received about $5 million in funding. In 2001, Quebec City hosted the Summit of the Americas and received $4.5 million in funding. So why, then, did Parry Sound-Muskoka need $50 million? Plain and simple: it didn't. Parry Sound-Muskoka is a riding with a very healthy tax base. Cottages costing millions of dollars tend to contribute nicely in the form of property taxes. 

Just a small part of Muskoka's "Millionaire's Row"
The fact is: this $50 million could have been spent in a riding that truly needed the help. But Harper chose to take taxpayer's money and funnel it into a friend's riding that is already wealthier than most in Canada.

Harper's Economic Action Plan: Take from the poor - Give to the rich.