Monday, March 2, 2015

Carbon fee and dividend best road for Ontario

Although Ontario’s supposedly imminent carbon pricing plan seems to keep getting kicked down the road, and won’t be in the upcoming budget, it does seem like this will finally be the year it happens.
Long overdue, but better late than never. The key, though, is to get it right, so we don’t lose more time with a failed program. To make the right choice, all we must do is look at which approaches have succeeded and which have not.
Carbon pricing is a fiscally responsible approach, basically taking away the privilege of polluting our atmosphere for free and instead making everyone responsible for their own actions and repercussions, by putting a reasonable price on emitting fossil carbon. This has support not only from environmentalists and climatologists, but also economists and major businesses, including some global oil companies. The two main routes are a simple fee, or some kind of quota system underneath a total limit, called a “cap”.
Quota systems, as a cap-and-trade, have been tried in Europe and found lacking. The key problem is how you allocate quota and set the cap. It seems far too common for certain industries to successfully argue that they are “critical”, so deserve a partial or total exemption. Events like an economic downturn or a cold winter are used as an excuse to loosen limits. Big polluters are “grandfathered”, and companies are allowed to buy dubious “offsets” from outside the cap. The end result is that the system is byzantine, leaky, corrupt, and fails to provide meaningful reductions.
A fee, on the other hand, is fair, even, predictable and direct, easy to monitor or adjust as targets are reached, and avoids all the wheeling-and-dealing that seems to undermine caps. The key, then, is to make sure the carbon fee doesn’t overburden the economy, becoming a job-killer or drag business. And that’s actually easier than you might think; just make the carbon fee revenue-neutral by returning all the income to the economy in the form of tax cuts or dividend payments.

British Columbia chose the route of a carbon fee returned via tax cuts, and has proven several important things. One is that a government (and a Liberal one, at that!) truly can implement a new tax while returning all the revenue back to the public, so that the total tax burden (and government revenue) does not rise. Ideologues assert this can’t be done, yet it has been, and has been independently verified. The other finding is that a revenue-neutral carbon fee need not hurt business, jobs, or the economy. Of course, it will push some industries to shrink or reform, and encourage others to grow, but overall it does not create a general drag. What it does bring is innovation leading to better productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness in a cleaner economy.
In fact, as was reported in this paper on Tuesday, the BC economy is expected to lead all other Canadian provinces in economic growth this year, at a respectable 3% rate. So any time someone asserts that a carbon price is economic suicide, be assured that their alarmism is counter to the truth.
So here’s hoping Ontario pays attention to what works and implements a simple carbon fee, and returns all the revenue either through other tax cuts or with a direct payment to every Ontario resident.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner (and Innisfil Examiner) as "A simple carbon fee can work"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Still a Green at heart, but not on the ballot

An old joke begins “The second-happiest day of a man’s life is when he buys a boat,” begging the question “What’s the happiest day?” The answer: the day he sells his boat!
Lucky for me, Marty said "Yes"

I felt like that on Sunday, when local Green Party members chose another to be our 2015 federal election candidate. Happy to have owned the boat, but very happy to pass it to the next owner.

In fact, I was only on the ballot in case the other person dropped out, and to offer our members a democratic choice in the unlikely chance they felt he wasn’t suitable. Luckily they agreed when I said he was the best choice and recommended choosing him, and now I am the proud former Green Party candidate for Barrie. My greatest pride is having been part of the local Green growth over the past decade, to the point where we were able to field two potential nominees for each of the two new Barrie ridings last week – four potential candidates where for so long, we only had one!
A debate, an interview, a few signs...
When I started with the Green Party back in aught-three, all that was expected of the candidate was to attend a debate, do a newspaper interview, put up a few dozen signs and perhaps answer some emails. (I think we had email way back then). Seeing it done by our 2003 provincial parachute candidate, I offered myself for the upcoming federal vote, to feature a local candidate. How hard could it be?
I've stood on the hands of giants
But I had underestimated the groundswell of Green support. By initiating the process half a year ahead, we managed to start something that snowballed by voting day. What started as three people meeting at Tim’s grew into a campaign involving dozens of volunteers, hundreds of signs, and thousands of votes. Since that humble beginning, a core of dedicated Greens managed to raise Barrie from the prior below-average Green vote to a consistent return, federally and provincially, of about 50% higher than the Green Party average each time, 6 elections in a row, even coming ahead of the NDP in 2007 and breaking the double-digit barrier in 2008. Among full slates, Barrie has managed to consistently reach the top 10% of Green campaigns.
Also, since that time, local Greens have worked with me to keep the Green Party very active between elections, including many events and activities featured in my columns. It has been great to see these efforts take fruit, and I have been honoured to serve as needed, but it has also been a huge commitment of time and emotion.
This is no way resembles the events
at the nomination meeting - really!
Now is the time for me to step back from the limelight, to re-engage with friends and family and my own business and leisure pursuits, without the constant taskmaster of partisan responsibility or being the public face of something larger than me.
I thank the many who have supported me over the years, with thousands of dollars, thousands of volunteer hours, and over twenty thousand votes; I could not have done any of that without their dedicated help. And I thank my family, most of all, for having shared me and given up so much of my time, what should have been their time, over the past 12 years. I trust they will enjoy my return as much as I will.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Green choices best for the party"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a volunteer with the Green Party of Canada.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sometimes enough power means too much power

Supplying electricity to a province as large and diverse as Ontario is a complex undertaking, enough that one can always find some detail to “prove” a predetermined attitude, or so it seems. A case in point is the electricity oversupply we had on Christmas.
This is where J. J. Abrams gets his power
That day, as trumpeted by some anti-wind bloggers, saw so little demand for electricity in Ontario (due to mild weather, and most people not being at work) that we had more than we needed, had to give it away to other jurisdictions, even pay them to take it from us. Which means we (Ontario power customers) paid for wind energy we just gave away. Shocking!
We actually had too much power of all sorts: wind, nuclear, gas and hydro, so we bought power from all of those sources, and paid each to forgo producing more, to keep the system in balance. Yes, even worse than buying electricity we didn’t need, we even paid for some that wasn’t made! Scandalous! Or is it…
Context is key. On the lowest-demand day of the year, we had more electricity than we needed. Our power system was built to ensure we don’t run out on the days when we have our highest demand. To have enough power available to keep the A/C on for hot summer afternoons, we need to have far more available than can be used on mild winter holidays.
Sure, it would be nice if we just paid for exactly the power we needed, when we needed it, but that’s not realistic. Power plants cost big bucks to build. Heck, they can cost a half billion dollars NOT to build, as the cancelled gas plant scandal has shown! For builders to take on projects of that scale, they require guaranteed minimum contracts to cover fixed costs and make loan payments so they don’t go belly-up in a season of low demand.
Without it, firms simply wouldn’t be willing to lay out the funds to build power generation. That would leave us without enough domestic generation to meet our needs, and we’d have import more expensive power, which would make electric bills higher.
Of course, if all power generation were publicly owned, we would not have to make such payments. Yet we’d still pay, because the public would be on the hook for the full construction and operating costs, regardless how much power we did or didn’t need. Our bills would reflect that.
Another option would be some kind of storage capacity, so we could “bank” unused power and use it later when we needed it, instead of having to dump it. This could work, but the cost to build that storage would also be massive, and again go against your power bill.
So in the end, there is no avoiding it, and you can’t put all the blame on wind, or nuclear, or any other mode of generation. There have been many signs of mismanagement of the power system by the government, but paying for some wind we didn’t need on a low-demand holiday isn’t one. The simple fact is that if we want to have enough power ready when we need it most, then we must overpay a bit when we need it least. It’s all part of the complex trade-offs of providing reliable power service to Canada’s largest economy.  
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Planning needed to keep Ontario powered up"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

Here's an email I received in response to my column:
Dear Erich,

I read your piece in the Barrie Examiner on the complexity of the electricity system.  I agree that the system is complex, but our over reliance on nuclear energy is a big factor in the current large power surpluses we are experiencing.  These plants have to operate at a steady level 24/7 and provide little system flexibility.  

A far better approach would be to reduce our dependence on nuclear energy and continue to increase our development of renewable energy in combination with water power imports from Quebec.  Quebec has massive capacity to store energy by holding water in reservoirs. Ontario's recent deal to exchange up to 500 MW of power with Quebec can be used to essentially transform Ontario wind and solar power into firm baseload power.  We send power to Quebec when we have a surplus; they send it back when demand peaks in Ontario.  

Of course, one of the key advantages of solar energy is that it produces most of its power "on peak" -- hot sunny days when power demand is highest.  Another reason we have a power glut is that the Ontario energy bureaucracy has consistently over estimated future demand for power and underestimated the potential of energy efficiency.  We need a more flexible and responsive electricity system, and that means one built around distributed generation sources like wind and solar.

Thanks for your time, 

Federation of Community Power Co-operatives
info@fcpcoops.ca  |  (416)977-5093 ext 2380

Friday, January 16, 2015

New ridings offer new challenges for Green Party

2015 brings big changes on the local political front. With 30 new electoral districts (ridings) being added across the country to elect 30 more Members of Parliament, 15 of them in Ontario, boundaries which have not changed for over a decade will be moving.
This is your first chance in 2015 to Vote for a Green
In our area, the changes are significant. The Barrie riding, whose borders were drawn to match those of the City of Barrie, is being split across the middle (Tiffin St and Kempenfelt Bay) with each half being augmented with rural areas from the surrounding ridings. As a result, Springwater Township is being moved from the Simcoe—Grey district, and Oro-Medonte from Simcoe North, to create the new Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte (BSOM) electoral district, which has no incumbent MP. The south half of Barrie is joining with the Town of Innisfil, which has been moved out of the York—Simcoe district, to become Barrie—Innisfil (BI). Conservative MP Patrick Brown is the de facto incumbent for BI, although if he wins the provincial PC leadership race, he’ll have to step down federally, leaving that seat also open. Two open ridings in what has been a swing-riding area would draw much national media attention and will certainly make for some exciting, hard-fought races.
You will have already seen some reportage about nomination contests in the new ridings, although the Green Party was usually omitted from the coverage of which parties have or have not had nominations or formed new riding organizations. Luckily, I can correct that oversight!
For Greens, this boundary change is somewhat traumatic for both the Barrie and Simcoe North riding organizations. The Barrie Greens I helped build over the past 10 years have basically been cleaved in half, and what was an entirely urban riding will now be two ridings, each combining urban and rural communities, with divergent needs and feelings. This means adapting to varying campaign styles and even unmatched sign by-laws, which are quite different between Barrie and Simcoe County.
Rainbows, wind turbines, clear cuts to block -
what's not to like about Miss Green?
But this is also potentially traumatic for Greens in Simcoe North. Although Oro-Medonte represents only about 10% of the area and population of the (former) Simcoe North riding, many of the current or former Green Party riding executives and active volunteers happen to live there. In effect, much of the Simcoe North Green Party organization is finding themselves uprooted and dropped into a new riding, even though their address hasn’t changed. Luckily, we are pulling together to address this challenge and together form an even stronger Green presence in the region’s 5 ridings.
As part of this, Green Party members from across the region are meeting on Sunday, February 8, to nominate candidates for BSOM and BI and new riding executives to support the campaign. Starting at 2 pm at O’Hara’s Public House at 420 Leacock Drive in Barrie, the event is open to members of the public, but voting will be limited to party members who live within the new BSOM or BI boundaries and have enrolled by January 25th. Several individuals have already stepped up to be serve as candidate or on the executive, but the party is always open to new applicants, who should contact info@BarrieGreens.ca or call 705-730-7591 to indicate their interest and get more information.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, January 9, 2015

Je suis Charlie, vraiment!

(Se il vous plaît profiter de ma première blog bilingue , traduit en français par l'intermédiaire de mon ami Nicholas Lescarbeau, de l'original ici - Please enjoy my first-ever bilingual blog, translated to French through the agency of my friend Nicholas Lescarbeau, from the original here.)

Je suis Charlie.
Je suis Charlie Hebdo
Aujourd'hui j'écris alors que les médias couvrent l'assaut meutrier à Paris, au bureau du journal satirique Charlie Hebdo, qui a laissé 12 morts dont le rédacteur en chef ainsi que plusieurs dessinateurs et rédacteurs.
Personnellement, en tant que chroniqueur, je suis en faveur de la liberté d'expression et m'oppose à toute censure quelle quelle soit.
Mon historique concernant l'expression et la censure remonte à plus loin. En grandissant, j'adorais la satire effrontée de Mad et de Cracked ainsi que, plus tard, celle du National Lampoon et, à l'occasion notre propre Frank canadien. Au secondaire, les élèves avaient le droit le matin de faire des annonces bouffonnes ; parfois nos diffusions en direct outrepassaient la limite de l'administration et nous étions réprimandés. Des amis se sont faits dire qu'ils ne pouvaient porter de Tee-shirts offensants, inclus ceux arborant un berger irrité aiguillonnant des moutons avec la légende : «Foutez-moi le camp !» (Trad.: “Get the flock out of here!”) (Ah! Les années 80, si innocentes…).
Ensuite, pendant plusieurs années, j'ai écrit et été rédacteur de mathNEWS (Le journal ayant peu de maths et encore moins de nouvelles), une publication estudiantine, bi-mensuelle de la faculté des mathématiques de l'Université de Waterloo. Un jour, la publication-sœur The Cord, un journal estudiantin de l'Université Wilfrid Laurier voisine, publia un article traitant des pratiques sexuelles, susceptibles ou pas de transmettre le VIH/sida. En ces temps de confusion et d'ignorance, l'article très explicite, mais factuel, était très important. Mais la Fédération étudiante s'indigna et elle fit temporairement fermer le journal. Je présentai un papier couvrant les faits saillants de l'information "bannie", mais mes propres réviseurs refusèrent de le publier refroidis par la fermeture de l'autre journal. mathNEWS même, pour avoir publié des caricatures et des articles irrévérencieux, s'attirait parfois les foudres administratives et des réunions peu agréables dans le bureau du doyen.
Mémorial pour les journalistes tués dans la guerre
Pendant que j'enseignais en Corée du Sud, j’ai été particulièrement ému par une visite au Monument aux correspondants de guerre tués dans l'exercice de leurs fonctions. Peu de choses exigent plus de bravoure que de s’aventurer au front qu'armé d'une caméra ou d'un crayon et du papier afin de ramener la vérité au monde entier.
Aujourd'hui, nous nous rendons à l'évidence: Le front est partout. Ceux qui expriment des idées critiques ou satiriques risquent d'être persécutés ou même tués pour avoir évoqué des idées que d'autres trouvent menaçantes ou irrespectueuses et ce, que la cible soit musulmane ou l'Église orthodoxe Russe ou quelque autre religion. Même les pays évolués comme l'Allemagne, l'Islande ou la Nouvelle-Zélande traitent soigneusement les sensibilités religieuses avec des loiscontre le blasphème. Tel que rapporté par le réseau anglais de Radio-Canada, Salam Emenyawi, président du Conseil Musulman de Montréal, condamne l'attaque à Paris comme étant épouvantable et pense qu'il devrait y avoir des lois plus dures concernant ce qui peut être publié sur la religion et sur la publication de caricatures offensives pour certains -- favorisant la liberté d'expression, mais attelées à des limites pour ce qui est des thèmes religieux.  
Je suis en désaccord complet.  Bien que je considère cruel de ridiculiser les membres courants de la communauté et que je considère illégal d'encourager la haine et la violence; nos politiciens, chefs religieux ainsi que nos propres croyances méritent et doivent être critiqués, satirisés et même, au besoin, être ridiculisés. Plus une idéologie nous affecte et plus elle doit être remise en question, examinée et débattue. En fait, les lois devraient plutôt permettre une plus grande liberté dans ce sens. Aujourd'hui, le Président français François Hollande a très justement déclaré que les victimes étaient des héros.  
À moins de délibérément imprimer des renseignements erronés ou d'encourager la haine uniquement basée sur le ciblage d'un groupe, il ne devrait pas y avoir de limites quant à la capacité d'exprimer des idées, de les mettre en question ou de les critiquer fût-ce en mots ou dessins. Une idée valable peut facilement résister à la critique et au ridicule sans autre protection légales.  
Je suis Charlie.
Publié en version original anglaise dans ma chronique Root Issues dans le Barrie Examiner, ayant pour titre There should be no limits on the ability to question.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins est administrateur de Living Green et de Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je suis Charlie

I am Charlie Hebdo
Je suis Charlie.
I write this today as live news covers the deadly attack on the Paris office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, with 12 killed for their political coverage, including an editor and several cartoonists and writers.
As a newspaper columnist myself, I strongly identify with freedom of speech and oppose censorship of ideas.
But my personal history with expression and censorship goes back further. Growing up, I loved the irreverent satire of Mad and Cracked magazines, and later National Lampoon and occasionally, Canada's own Frank. In high school, students were allowed to do morning announcements in a comedic style; sometimes our live broadcasts crossed a line administration felt was too far, and were censored. Friends were told not to wear to school T-shirts that might offend, including one featuring an angry shepherd goading his sheep captioned “Get the flock out of here!” (Ah, the 80s, such innocent times).
Later, I wrote for, then edited for several years mathNEWS (“The paper with a little math and even less news; news with a math slant!”), fortnightly student publication of the University of Waterloo Math faculty. One time, sister publication The Cord, student paper of neighbouring Wilfred Laurier University, published an article detailing which sexual practices were or were not likely to transmit HIV/AIDS. It was very explicit, but also factual and, in those times of confusion and ignorance, very important. But the student union took offense and shut the paper down temporarily. I submitted a story covering highlights of the “banned” information, but my own editors refused to run it, under chill of the other shutdown. mathNEWS itself occasionally took heat, including probation and awkward meetings in the Dean's office, for publishing irreverent articles or cartoons.
Memorial for journalists killed in war
While teaching in South Korea, visiting Imjingak memorial park, I was particularly moved by a monument to war correspondents killed in the line of fire. I can think of few things braver than going to the front lines, armed only with camera or pen & paper, to bring truth back to the wider world.
Today we are graphically reminded the front line is everywhere. Those who express critical or satirical ideas can be persecuted, even killed for expressing ideas others find threatening or disrespectful, whether the target is Islam or the Russian Orthodox Church or other majority religions. Even enlightened nations like Germany, Iceland, or New Zealand coddle religious sensibilities with laws against “blasphemy”. As reported by CBC, President of the Muslim Council of Montreal Salam Emenyawi condemned the Paris attack as horrific but feels there should be tougher laws around what can be published about religion or putting out religious cartoons that are offensive to some – in favour of freedom of expression but with limits on religious topics.
I disagree completely. While I feel it is cruel to single out average community members for ridicule, and rightly illegal to goad hatred or violence, our political or religious leaders and beliefs need and deserve criticism, satire, even ridicule as necessary. The more an ideology influences our lives, the more it must be questioned, examined, and argued. If anything, laws should allow greater freedom in this direction. French President François Hollande rightly declared today’s victims heroes.
Short of deliberately printing false information or calling for hatred of people solely based on their group identification, there should be no limits on the ability to express, question, or criticize ideas, whether in words or pictures. If a set of ideas is worthy, it can easily withstand criticism or ridicule without special legal protections.
I am Charlie.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "There should be no limits on the ability to question"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, January 2, 2015

LabourWatch is watching me!

John Mortimer, the President of the right-wing business-funded anti-union organization Canadian LabourWatch Association, took the time to write a letter to the editor critiquing my column of last week about the Senate. I copy his text here, followed by my response.

Columnist shouldn't throw stones

(Re: 'Going to the polls before the snow melts' in the Dec. 22 edition of the Examiner)

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins’ Barrie Green Party 2011 online profile says he was an 'education consultant'. His op-ed column is full of inaccurate education.

The writer, who makes errors such as the ones noted below, also appears to call Green Party leader Elizabeth May a “partisan and flighty” Member of Parliament in the House of Commons.

First, Canadian Senators are not “securely serving-for-life representatives” – they must retire no later than age 75.

Second, calling disgraced Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin Conservative “party hacks” is completely contradicted by their decades as respected, high-profile journalists of prominent media organizations.

They were never long-time party activists, let alone “party hacks”.

Finally, he inaccurately criticizes the Senate process regarding Federal Bill C-525, the Employees’ Voting Rights Act, which aligned three federal labour codes with six different provincial labour codes and all 50 American states.

The new law statutorily protects an employee’s right to the bulwark of democracy – a secret ballot vote in place of unionization with union cards alone.

He claims that the bill had “significant errors”. This is completely false. He also misrepresents what happened in the Senate.

The bill had been amended by a House of Commons committee earlier in 2014. The committee missed adding the number '.1' in two places to get its amendments perfect. These errors were not in the original draft of the Bill that came to that committee.

The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs had before it a legal opinion from a prominent lawyer and Queen’s Counsel, along with three high profile Court rulings, one from the Supreme Court of Canada, noting such numbering errors are a reality, particularly when laws are amended (as was the case with this Bill).

I was in the committee room for that additional session.

At that whole extra hearing on the two tiny, tiny numbering errors, the committee considered the law of the land on errors and voted the Bill into law. Our common law says any tribunal or court corrects such errors when faced with them; to do otherwise would be 'absurd', our courts have ruled. All governments pass laws from time to time to correct these errors which are a reality of life.

Jacoby-Hawkins either needs to get his facts right and be more careful himself, or maybe recognize that he is no more perfect in his glass house than those he throws stones at.

It is unclear to what extent he is still in fact a Green Party 'partisan' and 'party hack' or is headed to the same career path as former media personalities Duffy and Wallin, and maybe an eventual appointment to the “chamber of sober second thought”.

John Mortimer

President

Canadian LabourWatch Association

Vancouver, BC


Well, he took the trouble to write that lengthy and detailed letter, so I felt I owed him at least the following response.

Thank you for reading my column and taking the time to write in, John! I'm sorry you seem to have misunderstood some of my points.
When I contrasted the Senate's "sober second thought" with the House of Commons, I was speaking to the implications of that phrase, namely that MPs are partisan and flighty. Although some of them certainly are, I was noting the generalization inherent in that concept, not making a categorical claim. I happen to know several MPs (including Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer, but also Michael Chong, Nathan Cullen, and Joyce Murray) who are not at all flighty or partisan - if the rest of the House were like them, then perhaps we would not need a Senate at all!
Now, as to a secure job "for life", since retirement age in Canada is generally 65 or younger, having a position guaranteed until 75 pretty much meets that definition, would you not say? (Although in our original Constitution, there was no mandatory retirement for Senators - but then life expectancy was well below 75, too). Especially since their guaranteed post-retirement pension is well above the average income of a working Canadian, such as the employees of the businesses who fund LabourWatch.
One could certainly wish that Duffy's and Wallin's long media careers would have prevented their descent into political hackdom, yet it seems they dived right in as soon as they were appointed, spending much of their time (and allegedly some public money) on partisan fundraising.
As to whether the errors in the bill are significant, as I claimed, or tiny, as you characterize them, I quote Chair of the Public Service Labour Relations & Employment Board Catherine Ebbs: "The impact of this change is not trivial because our current specific regulations will be effectively removed from our tool kit to deal with applications for certification," referring to how her board could lose its power to regulate the evidence that must be filed when an employee organization applies for certification of a bargaining unit.
Sure, those errors can probably be fixed by a tribunal or court, but why pass laws that we already know will have to be challenged in court to correct? And what happens to the government offices that have to deal with incorrect legislation in the meantime, given how long it may take to get a ruling?
We clearly disagree on some opinions, as is our right, but I don't have my facts wrong.
I don't know if a community volunteer can rightly be termed a "party hack", but thank you for suggesting that I am Senate material, and your confidence that my party will someday be in a position to make that appointment. If your prediction comes true, I'll be sure to invite you to my swearing-in.
Yes Virginia, interesting things do sometimes happen in the Senate