Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Religion and Politics, oh my.

They say to avoid discussing religion and politics. Well, I’m not afraid to write about politics, and now and then address religion, especially when they intersect.
These days, religion seems very political, unfortunately for mostly negative reasons. Media pays much attention to the influence of radical Islam in some terrorist movements, or as inspiration to lone lunatics. Sadly, this fear spills over to the wider mass of non-violent Muslims desiring nothing more than to live their lives in peace, who see their religion not as a call to dominate those of other faiths, but merely a path to connect with a higher power. It worsens when members of a competing faith, such as Christianity, try to assert religious superiority not only in spiritual realms but in the domestic political arena, with policies such as shunning our duties toward refugees fleeing violence, or trying to ban all Muslims from entry, as suggested by a leading American presidential candidate.

Once on the cross, more than enough.
But your crucifixion goes on today
In killings, rapes, and war devastation,
Innocent ones maimed and abused,
Martyred ones speaking out for justice,
Brave ones protecting the defenseless,
All those men and women who die
Working tirelessly for the good of others.
When will your crucifixion end?
Not until everyone is a person of love
Today: I live as a person of love
 © Joyce Rupp in "Fragments of Your Ancient Name", Sorin Books

Therefore, it is encouraging that local Christians, working together through Simcoe County KAIROS, embrace their faith in an inclusive rather than exclusive manner. This Easter will mark Barrie’s third annual Good Friday Ecumenical Walk for Justice. Beginning and ending (with soup & bun) at City Hall 1 – 2:30 pm on March 25, marchers will visit many “stations of the cross” in Barrie, each relating to the struggles of dealing with poverty, homelessness, or marginalization. Some places are where the vulnerable risk feeling voiceless or oppressed, such as City Hall, a police station, or the courthouse/jail, while others are places they receive support, like the David Busby Street Centre, Elizabeth Fry Society, or a church participating in the Out of the Cold program. I am encouraged that Spirit Catcher is one of the stations, recognizing our First Nations and their faiths which faced great repression over the centuries. At each station, the walk will emphasize ways that “Christ is crucified today”, relating scriptural accounts to modern-day social injustices Christ would speak to, were He among us now.
Yet while some use faith to justify compassion and others to justify hatred, there are also those who feel people can be ethical, moral and compassionate without faith, relying instead on reason. Known as Humanists, they can be good without God. The Central Ontario Humanists Association (COHA) has spearheaded a great opportunity to learn more about that concept with “#GodDebate: Does God Exist?” at 7 pm on March 30. Respectfully debating on the “No” side will be COHA’s president Shawn Conroy, while arguing God’s existence will be the Rev. William Haughton of Collier Street United Church, which is hosting the event (thus giving God the home-field advantage). This isn’t a knockdown winner-take-all fight, no-one will be crowned winner; instead, it will be an opportunity for people of traditional or eclectic faiths, or no faith at all, to explore, share and discuss their own ideas and those of others. Visit event site to submit questions.
While I am not a believer, and don’t think scripture is divinely inspired, much less infallible, I do believe that great moral writings persist through history when they offer enduring insight on the human condition, whether that be the plight of the homeless or how to show compassion toward refugees from another land. With that in mind, I look forward to both of these upcoming faith-based local events.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Faith-based events will spark talk"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is the vice president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ontario Liberals mess up Green policies again

Green legislation from other parties
is never quite as good as promised.
It’s great when governments finally do the right thing, yet frustrating when they try but screw it up. Over a decade of Green Party policy, I’ve seen many Green ideas migrate into the platforms of other parties and even enacted by governments, who rarely carry it through the way Greens would.
For example, the Ontario Liberal government started out with the best way to increase the use of clean renewable energy like solar, wind and biogas: a feed-in tariff. Basically, it guarantees that producers of clean energy can sell their product at a reasonable markup, which gets individuals and businesses the necessary start-up financing. It’s nothing unique to renewables, of course; nuclear, gas, and other electric producers also get guaranteed rates. By extending this mechanism to renewables, the playing field is levelled.
Unfortunately, the McGuinty government screwed this up a few ways. At the smallest level, they keep adding more and more restrictions on the microFIT program: they limit the size of a solar installation to 10 kilowatts, they won’t allow installation on a second property, whether it’s a business, cottage, or rental house, and farmers with panels on poles or frames, instead of existing farmhouses or barns, get lower prices. It’s like they can’t decide if more solar production is a good thing to foster, or a bad thing to restrict! At the mega-level, they gave initial preference to major corporate producers, including a multi-billion dollar deal with Samsung. Only many years later did they partially address this through preferential opportunities for local community co-ops, which should have been the norm in the first place. The end result of these blunders was to unfairly stain the whole idea of renewable energy among the public.
Similar problems are recurring around carbon pricing. As most environmentalists and just about every economist will tell you, the best way to reduce climate destabilizing greenhouse gas emissions is putting a price on carbon pollution, so reduction becomes part of every economic decision at the business, institutional, or family level. Even Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown now endorses that approach. Yet as he notes, but as our Premier Kathleen Wynne seems to have missed, the best carbon price is revenue neutral, returning all monies paid to pollute back to the economy through a tax shift or a dividend. Although a carbon tax can be a “price on everything” (although not on many things that are carbon neutral), it can also fund a “tax cut on everything” or a poverty-fighting rebate to everyone.
British Columbia showed the way; their carbon tax shift reduced pollution while economic growth continued without financial pain. Ontario and the rest of Canada should follow suit. Instead, though, Ontario is setting up a cap-and-trade carbon regime. Experience in other parts of the world predict this system will be complex, expensive, and hand unearned profits to the traditional polluters who got us into this mess in the first place, because they get free or discounted credits to use or sell. And as far as we can tell, the revenue will mainly be used to balance the budget, with some of it directed to emission-reducing projects like transit or efficiency.
By making the carbon price a burden on the economy, instead of a boost to innovation and efficiency, the government besmirches climate action like it did renewable energy. And with a federal Liberal government that seems unwilling to provide any better direction (2008’s Green Tax Shift plan apparently wholly forgotten), it looks like the best we can hope for on climate policy is half-measures and unnecessary pain.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Pain associated with climate policy"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is the vice president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.