The ballots are in the mail

Good Sunday Morning,

Elizabeth rocksSince the ballots are in the mail, my intention was to make this week's missive exclusively about how important it is that we make our democracy more representative by voting in BC's referendum on electoral reform. But then Elizabeth blew the lid on that with her speech in the House on Monday. Even though she initiated the call for an emergency debate on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, as a lone MP, it was only through the graces of some Liberal colleagues that she even had a proper opportunity to address the nation from her seat in parliament. Thank God she did.

We are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and we are the last generation that can do something to stop it. Elizabeth's speech, if you have not already seen it, is a must. It calls on our higher angels to help us reach deep inside us and recognize the urgency of the moment. "Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to global nuclear war," Elizabeth quotes COP in 1988. She has had a ringside seat as we missed opportunity after opportunity. "Every time the alarm rings, we hit the snooze button."

"The IPCC report has said to us as a country that our target is approximately 50% too little. We need to do twice as much. I know that is hard, but to save the lives of our children, what wouldn’t we do? Why will we not rally around the call that we go to COP24 and say we are not going to wait five years? It is an unthinkable thing what the minister has said to us. She said we are going to wait until 2023. Read between the lines. It is what she just said. We must go to the next climate negotiation as leaders in the world with the target the scientists have told us we must have.

German_Greens.jpg"Then we must stand up and challenge the others by asking where is their target? Where is their goal? Because we are not prepared to tell our children we are a failed species. We are not going to do that because we are responsible human beings. We are Canadian parliamentarians and together we can achieve the pathway that has been put before us by world science."

The response was overwhelming. People across the country hailed hers as the strongest voice in parliament on this crucial issue. Partly because Elizabeth's impassioned plea stood in contrast to the talking points that other MPs found themselves clinging to, even as some of them knew in their hearts that their official party line was woefully inadequate.

While politicians are buying pipelines and promoting LNG, the world is moving forward. The race for grid sized energy storage solutions is on and new technologies and greater efficiencies are abound. But so is the public's awareness of making the shift that this letter to the editor calls for. Here in B.C., public demand is already ahead of the rollout of the many EV models in 2019. The National Observer reports that one-in-three British Columbians expect to buy an electric car as their next vehicle, but for now they’re going to have a little trouble finding one. Despite the surge in interest, less than half of the dealerships in B.C. have any electric vehicles at all according to a new report from Clean Energy Canada.

To get a sense how fast things are moving, take a look at this video of a Mercedes engine assembly line filmed in 2011. Then take a look at how Audi builds the engines for it's electric vehicles to hit the streets next year. Again I use the car industry because it's so ubiquitous but the same holds true for practically all sectors of the economy. To keep up with automation, adaptation, and social dislocation, to reach the climate targets that are imperative if we are to avoid a climate disaster, we have to be able to move quickly. And under our current system, governments have no incentive to be responsive to change.

Podcast.jpgGovernments currently have the luxury of being laggards because once they capture a majority of the seats in the House, they can more or less do what they like for four years by listening to their echo chamber and following the tried and true political cycle: 1. promise 'buck a beer' (or whatever the equivalent self serving promise of the month is) to the electorate, 2. Win a false majority through targeted dog-whistle campaigns, 3. break promises as quickly as possible, 4. Help people forget with many distractions. 5. Repeat.

With that formula, any progress seems to be the result of coincidence more than planning, opportunism more than rational policy development, polling more than principles. But there is an alternative. And as David Suzuki explains in this fabulous Podcast with Jo-Ann Roberts more and more thought leaders are starting to embrace that alternative. It's based in a commitment to democracy, a passion for the success of our civilization as a whole, and the desire that future generations be able to enjoy the biodiversity and climate stability we have been blessed to know.

And that alternative is sweeping the country and the world. In Europe the movement increasingly appeals to voters frustrated with traditional mainstream parties. Last night in municipal elections here in B.C. a record number of Greens and other progressives have been elected to office. And there is the recent electoral successes in New Brunswick. Success is not just in winning seats but also in the form of policies that Greens have been championing. Greens called for the legalization of cannabis for a long time and have been sounding the alarm about Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) for years. We are finally reconciling the contradiction in how we treat consumers of booze and pot, and the rewrite of NAFTA has, you guessed it, removed the ISDS (Chapter 11, Section B) from the new USMCA agreement.

“We’ll be able to pass our own laws and regulations without being afraid of a big U.S. company bringing a multi-billion-dollar claim against us. The Canadian public isn’t aware of it, but behind the scenes, decision-makers are often intimidated because of these legal risks and the financial risks of these claims,” Gus Van Harten, a professor at Osgoode Law School and an expert in dispute settlement, explained.

deal.jpgGlobal News reported that according to Van Harten, Canadian legislators are breathing a sigh of relief. “In terms of Canada as a whole and our sovereignty, it’s just transformational. It was the No. 1 obstacle to actually calling ourselves an independent country in our entire legal framework, ever since we repatriated the Constitution. It’s as simple as that.”

These are just two examples. The point is that good ideas often come from small parties (think universal health care). You know what the biggest obstacle is to a national carbon tax? The argument that it will turn into just another government tax grab. Meanwhile Greens have been championing the Fee and Dividend model all along. It returns every penny of the Carbon Fees, that make polluters pay, to the pockets of the citizens in the form of an annual dividend.

A few weeks ago, Kevin Taft told us the reason governments, especially false majority governments, have such a hard time implementing it. According to a one year old report, just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. The Guardian reported in July 2017 that this Carbon Majors Report (pdf) “pinpoints how a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions,” says Pedro Faria, Technical Director at environmental non-profit CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), which published the report in collaboration with the Climate Accountability Institute.

Unicorns.jpgMaybe it's their influence that caused Rachel Notley to compare Trans Mountain protesters to "dewy-eyed unicorn jockeys from Salt Spring Island." At the same event, Tzeporah Berman asked Albertans to engage in open and thoughtful discussion on the future of the energy sector at a time of looming climate catastrophe. At the end of her talk she invoked the often touted argument that it's not fair for Canada to reduce it's greenhouse gas emission when the rest of the world is not acting fast enough.

Climate change is not fair... but our voting system can be. Yes, the ballots are in the mail and on Tuesday you can join Premier John Horgan and BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver at Crystal Garden in Victoria to kick off this fall’s historic Proportional Representation referendum. It’s a free public event – so please invite your friends, family and coworkers!

Adam_ProRep.jpgOn Saturday afternoon you can attend this ProRep Information Session with MLA Adam Olsen & guests Garry Holman, Bob MacKie and David Merner. And if you live in the lower mainland you can go see Andrew Coyne on October 25th.

His presentation at the Broadbent Institute debate two years ago has to rank as the classic explanation of how our current voting system works (or doesn't). I love his lead line: "Anyone who ever proposes to change anything inevitably runs up against the unanswerable objection that this would mean... changing things. People who at any other time could be found seething with rage at the state of our politics, turn into its most ardent defenders the minute it's proposed that something actually be done about it. Like the child in the Hilaire Belloc poem,' we are inclined to always keep a hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse.'"

ER02.jpgTurns out only about 40% of Canadians can even pick our voting system out of a multiple choice question as Elizabeth pointed out in her TED talk on Electoral Dysfunction. She tells the story of how even the jockey club of the day knew that the idea of 'winner takes all', inherent in a First Past the Post system, was a bad idea. "The system we use to vote today is named for something the jockey club got rid of in 1880." The British North America Act imposed this system on us just until such time as we could develop our own. We are still waiting, even though in 1921 the first parliamentary study of our voting system concluded, that in any democracy with more then two parties, First Past the Post does not work.

Almost 100 years later, we are still electing virtual dictators with a minority of votes that give them false majorities in our legislative bodies. We still have highly inefficient policy lurches that spend a lot of time and money undoing the "mistakes" of previous regimes or worse, carry on with the autocratic policies and blame their predecessor. With all the promise that carried his party from third place to government, Justin Trudeau is perhaps the most egregious example of this folly. While the underdog, he of course made promises that once in power it was convenient to break.

choice.pngLet's fix this now! Let's be the innovation leaders in our democracy. Let's show those who doubt our ability to understand that Canadians are just as intelligent as the people in all the other countries who don't have First Past the Post. After all, no study, commission or committee that has explored electoral systems has ever recommended First Past The Post. The jockey club knew what it was talking about back in 1880. 

So if you have time, get engaged. Knock on doors, hand out leaflets, talk to friends. Share things on social media. There are any number of groups and organizations spreading the word including Dogwood, LeadNow, FairVote, VotePRBC and of course the BC Greens. Help them out today! Let's win this thing!

You may also find the following links helpful:

Here is one link to a page that lays out all the systems,
here is another, and
here is an interactive survey to help people decide which system aligns best with their values.

You might also enjoy this podcast "Making every vote count" with Jo-Ann Roberts.

Have a fabulous weekend,


"It is our job to work tirelessly for justice, for peace, and for a planet that can survive with a human civilization that thrives. This is the challenge that we take on as Greens." Elizabeth May, October 19th, 2015

This weekly missive is authored by Thomas Teuwen, our SGI EDA coordinator. Opinions expressed are his own. We welcome your comments and feedback. If you were sent here by a friend and would like to subscribe to our weekly email simply click here. You can also go to the archives section of our SGI website to read back issues. And if you are on twitter please join in on this hashtag.

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