Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stay On Point When Discussing Ban on the Non-Essential Use of Pesticides

GOOD NEWS! The Manitoba Government is finally going to follow the lead of the other 6 provinces in Canada which have put in place bans on the aesthetic or non-essential use of pesticides. This is a first step that Greens have been calling for years.

I will admit that I would like to see a phasing out of pesticide use for agricultural practices. The organics industry is the fastest growing segment of the food industry, and I would like to see support for Manitoba farmers to go after this burgeoning consumer demand.

But I think it will be important to stay on point. The issue at hand is a ban not on the agricultural use of pesticides, but on the aesthetic use of pesticides for non-essential purposes.

Robert Arnason's February 16, 2012 article “Pesticide ban position questioned
” in the Western Producer provides an example of the misdirected, misleading and misguided arguments that are going to be put forward by industry hacks – veiled or otherwise.

Below is a much a lengthened version of a 400 word letter I sent to the Arnason and the Western Producer news room, and copied to the Minister of Conservation and Canadian Cancer Society.

Dear Robert Arnason and Editorial Staff at the Western Producer:

It is the Manitoba Government, not the Canadian Cancer Society, which has chosen to move forward with a ban on the aesthetic use of pesticides. Your February 16, 2011 article would have been much more informative had it not misdirected its focus.

Yes, people should investigate the expenditures, activities, and registration status of any charity before giving; this applies as much to the Canadian Cancer Society as it does to Charity Intelligence, itself is a registered charity. The misdirected and veiled attack on the Canadian Cancer Society was disgusting and defamatory (although yes the defamatory statement is likely shield by a legal defense – that doesn't make it any less despicable).

Yes, civil society organizations (charities, trade associations, non-governmental organizations, lobby groups, etc.) play an important role is pushing for new policies, and it is fair to consider these influences. The focus, however was entirely one-sided.

Crop-Life Canada – a non-profit agro-industry trade association funded and directed by large agricultural corporations like Dow AgroScience, Syngenta, Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, Du Pont and others – has for years vociferously lobbied against a ban on the aesthetic use of pesticides.

If the Canadian Cancer Society is lobbying for a ban on the aesthetic use pesticides to raise revenues, then is it not equally obvious that Crop-Life Canada is lobbying against such a ban to protect the profits of the industry it represents?

It is also misleading to focus on: is there “a conclusive link between pesticides and human cancer?” Without also posing the reverse: “is it conclusive that there is absolutely no link between pesticides and human cancer?” Neither question can be answered with scientific certainty, but there is a growing body of epidemiological evidence finding an association between pesticide use and certain diseases, including cancer.

To provide a snippet from an excellent Paths Less Travelled (February 12, 2012) blog post:

“..."GM Soy. Sustainable? Responsible?" ... documented the findings of a commission conducted by the central Argentinian State of Chaco in 2010. ... childhood cancer rates tripled in the town of La Leonesa and birth defects increased almost fourfold over the entire state. Those results corresponded with greatly increased spraying of glyphosate and other agrochemicals in the region during that period.

Scientific studies referred to in the paper, cite an association between glyphosate and at least two kinds of cancer, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, (NHL), a cancer of the blood. An increased rate of NHL had been repeatedly observed among farmers for years, suggesting an association between use of pesticides, including glyphosate and the risk of the disease.

...a graduate student at the University of Manitoba, Jennifer Magoon, found statistically significant links between the use of crop sprays and serious health problems with infants born in farming areas of the province where such sprays were commonly used.

Those problems included low birth weights, spina biffida, respiratory distress, jaundice, Down syndrome, cleft palate, retinal degeneration and cataracts. Her findings do not mention Roundup. But she singled out herbicides as the class of crop chemical she was most concerned with.”

This epidemiological evidence does not conclusively prove pesticides cause cancer, other factors could be at play, but it does raise enough alarm, as the end note in the article acknowledges, for the Canadian Medical Association to suggest “pesticide use be minimized.”

It was misguided to confound the issue by suggesting that a ban on the non-essential use of pesticides was intended to apply to the agricultural use pesticides. The issue at hand is a ban not on the agricultural use of pesticides, but on the aesthetic use of pesticides.

Eliminating the non-essential use of pesticides would seem to be a logical starting point to minimize the use of pesticides.


Once again I want to reiterate, I envision a world where organic, better yet bio-dynamic agriculture, once again replaces agriculture dependent on synthetic chemical inputs. An agricultural system that respects the people and the planet, while still being profitable for farmers.

For those that read this blog regularly you will know I am as critical of this NDP Government, as any. I want more than just a limited ban on pesticide use, but sometimes it is important to support the Government on a good initiative. This allows the best leverage to push for the strongest provisions possible. We cannot allow this to be the weakest legislation of its kind in the country – we should strive for the most stringent pesticides regulations among our provincial counterparts. To achieve this it is best if we are unified in our call.

We have seen that opponents are going to try to confuse the issue. This is why I think we must stay focused on the specific proposal at hand: a ban on the non-essential use of pesticides (i.e. Non-agricultural use). We must remain unified and avoid sidetracking ourselves - our opposition is only to happy to do it for us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Oh for Peat's Sake? -Horrors in Hecla Demonstrate Need for Provincial Strategy-

I teamed up at the Legislature today with Gaile Whelan Enns (Manitoba Wildlands), Eric Reder (Wilderness Committee), and Jon Gerard (Manitoba Liberal Party) to stand up for peat's sake.

The recent proposal to develop a new peat mine inside Hecla / Grindstone provincial park had underscored the long-standing desperate need for a peat lands protection strategy in Manitoba.[1]

Provincial Parks are intended to be protected areas. Places to preserve natural landscapes. A place where natural ecosystems can thrive and wildlife can be safe. Manitobans want their parks free of industrial developments like mines. The idea of a peat mine inside a provincial park is contradictory to the entire concept of a protected area.

To provide an analogy: think of a school as a “bully free protected zone,” yet which also has zones in the playground where bullying is knowingly allowed. The “bully-free” label, then contradicts actual practice!

A peat mine in a provincial park, is no less absurd – This would not be allowed in a National Park!

Adding insult to injury: the Manitoba Government enacted the Save Lake Winnipeg Act[2] in June 2011, claiming it would protect Manitoba's wetlands by, inter alia, “banning the rapid expansion of peat extraction from wetlands.”[3]

I was concerned about the potential of peat mines being developed despite the moratorium. When I presented in response to Bill 46: The Save Lake Winnipeg Act to the Manitoba Standing Committee on Social and Economic Development June 13, 2011, I asked:

“...several peat mines ... are [already]... in the licensing process. ... I'd like ... a clear indication of whether those ones that are partway through the licensing process will be allowed to finish, or whether they will not?”[4]

Unfortunately at the time I did not realize the true magnitude of the situation. I thought perhaps a few peat mines with pending applications might be licensed. The magnitude of the situation, however, is much worse.

The Government of Manitoba has granted peat quarry leases on more than 30,000 hectares (~75,000 acres) of Manitoba peat land. Holders of existing peat quarry leases in Manitoba can still develop new peat mines despite the provincial moratorium.

To put this into perspective, “[a]round 17,000 ha [~42,000 acres] of peatland are used for peat moss extraction in Canada, and an additional 5,000 ha [~12,500 acres] will be harvested within the next 10 years.”[5]

This means the total area of land in Manitoba with registered peat quarry leases, is nearly twice as large as the total area used for harvesting peat across Canada.

If the plan was to “ban the rapid expansion of the peat extraction from wetlands?” vis-a-vis the Save Lake Winnipeg Act, then I am afraid the barn door was shut long after all of the horses ran out.

Peat lands are important because they: 1) filter water - reduce the harmful nutrients entering waterways; 2) serve as carbon sinks - mining peat lands releases carbon and methane into the atmosphere; and 3) are habitat for species - including rare orchids, whooping cranes, and piping plover.

Of course many people use peat moss in their gardens, but perhaps less of us think about where this substance comes from, and the impacts that extracting it might have. However with a little bit of research many backyard gardeners might realize that alternatives to peat exist.

Chipped bark, shredded tree prunings, or straw are great mulch alternatives to peat, and peat has little or no nutrient value, so compost often works better than peat as a soil enricher.

Using compost and other alternatives, rather than peat whenever possible, reduces greenhouse gas emissions on both fronts: methane emissions from landfills are reduced, and emissions associated with peat mining are also reduced.

A provincial strategy to compost organic matter could, therefore work in tandem with a peat protection strategy. Yes this idea does require some further study, but these are the type of innovative ideas that hold the potential to create jobs, protect Manitoba's ecosystems, and reduce Manitoba's greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.

Now there is only so much we can do in our own Manitoba back yard - 90% of Canadian peat production is exported. “The United States is the main market, however peat products are also exported to many Asian, European and the Middle Eastern countries.[6]

Although Canada has an abundance of peat land, not all of it is suitable for peat mining. A true assessment of the long-term impacts of peat mining need to be considered. The industry in Canada has made great advances in partial reclamation of bogs, but even still, placing a mined peat bog back to its original ecological integrity is impossible – the biodiversity of a reclaimed pond is never as rich.

With so many questions, it is perhaps smart to step back and re-think. Perhaps the moratorium on peat mining should be extended to the issuance of Environment Act licenses as well?

Protecting peat is a wise investment. Peat is a precious planetary resource, which takes centuries to develop, and is a vital tool to preserve the health of our waterways, and the temperature of our planet.

We need to let the Manitoba Government know that it is time to get on with long overdue promises. We need more than some report that will sit on a shelf; more than an ambitiously named statute that makes miniscule amendments, which only amount to smoke and mirrors.

There just has to be a better way than mining peat from our public parks. Make sure that your voice and ideas are heard!

Comments and further enquiries regarding the “Hay Point Peat Mine Development (Public Registry file #5548.00)” can be forwarded to Darell Ouimet (darrell.ouimet[at] 945-7067. Comments must be submitted before February 3, 2012 and must include the “Public Registry file #5548.00” in the subject line or title. The Wilderness Committee has some helpful advice on their “Letter Writing Tool Page.”[7]

1 Larry Kusch: Winnipeg Free Press (January 6, 2011), “Peat Mine Proposed for Manitoba Park.” Online:
2 Manitoba Wildlands (June 25, 2011), “Save Lake Winnipeg Act Receives Royal Assent.” Online:
3 Government of Manitoba News Release (June 2, 2011), “Premier Unveils Plan to Save Lake Winnipeg.” Online:
4 Manitoba Hansard - Standing Committee on Social and Economic Development (June 13, 2011). Online:
5 Université of Laval: Peatland Ecology Research Group (April 28, 2009), “Peat Industry.” Online:
6 Prepared by SNC Lavalin for Jiffy Canada (April 2010), “Environment Act Proposal for Development of Poplar Creek Bog, Haute Bog, and Boggy River Bog” (p. 4). Available through Manitoba Department of Conservation Environmental Assessment and Licensing Branch public registry locations.
7 Wilderness Committee – Manitoba Chapter, “Write Wild - Provincial Park Threatened by Peat Mining Operation.” Online:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where is Manitoba's Commitment to Kyoto?


Dear Acting Conservation Minister Dave Chomiak,

I am absolutely appalled at your recent comments to CBC's Michaylo Prystupa regarding Manitoba's efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.[1]

In 2008 your government enshrined into law the Climate Change and Emissions Reduction Act. This Act enshrined into law a target of 6% below 1990 levels by 2012. This 2012 target was deliberately set because it mirrored Canada's national Kyoto Protocol GHG reduction target. This government was applauded for enshrining a Kyoto Protocol-compliant target into law in 2008, and while I still have many criticisms in regards to effectiveness of existing policies intended to reduce GHG emissions and the non-existence of other policies needed to reduce GHG emissions, I will acknowledge that at least having a Kyoto-compliant target showed the most minute modicum of leadership

The fact that this Government will fail to meet its target is not surprising, in fact failing to meet GHG reduction targets seems to be a habit of this provincial NDP government. The previous 2002 target stated in Kyoto and Beyond: Meeting and Exceeding Our Kyoto Targets was "...reductions of up to 18 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010, and reductions of up to 23 per cent by 2012." [2]

But to publicly announce amidst international negotiations in Durban (UNFCC COP17) that your Government was abandoning its Kyoto-compliant target was most irresponsible! Even the climate change denying federal Conservative party had the sense to recognize that it would be foolish to formally announce its withdrawal from Kyoto Protocol during the Durban negotiations. Did you give thought to the impacts that this announcement might have on the ongoing international negotiations?

With a federal Canadian Government that refuses to take sincere action on reducing GHG emissions, it is even more incumbent on provincial governments to show leadership and to forge ahead, with or without the help of their federal counterparts. Given the constant downgrading of Manitoba's emission reduction targets, the ill-timing of this current announcement, and the fact that Gary Doer is now a slick oil-sands salesperson for the Canadian Government,[3][4] it is hard not to think that this current provincial NDP government is purposefully attempting to sabotage any sincere action towards GHG reductions.

I will also point out that the Climate Change and Emissions Reduction Act, which enshrined the 6% below 1990 levels by 2012 target in law, has never been fully enacted. Sections 7, 8, 11, and 12 will only come into force in October 1, 2012, three months before this government will, by your own acknowledgement, fail to reach the 2012 target enshrined by the law. What is most disappointing is that these unproclaimed sections relate to government operations regarding green building standards for buildings owned or funded by the Government of Manitoba, and fuel efficiency standards for Government of Manitoba vehicles. If the Government itself is unwilling to take leadership, then what message does this send to the rest of the Manitoba?

Now I recognize there was also an acknowledgement that a Manitoba energy plan shall be forthcoming in the New Year. Of course, as with anything, the devil is in the details, but I acknowledge that Manitoba is desperately in need of a comprehensive energy plan, so I look forward to seeing what your Government brings forth in the New Year. I would also like to know what opportunities will be given to the public to provide input on the provincial energy plan?

When then Premier Gary Doer first announced the Climate Change and Emissions Reduction Act, he stated that “...our goal is to reduce emissions here in Manitoba,”[5] so it is somewhat surprising to hear you blame the failure to meet our target on the basis that Manitoba was not able to receive credit for the emissions it reduces abroad through export of hydro-electric energy. I acknowledge that displacing American coal plants has advantages, and helps to reduce global GHG emissions, but presumably this is done because it is profitable to do so; therefore we are not exporting energy as a benevolent act to combat global warming, but because it is in the best interest of our Crown utility, Manitoba Hydro. I, like many Manitobans do not think we should be rewarded for doing something we would have done anyways, rather we should be rewarded for taking concrete actions that reduce emissions here in Manitoba.

Also, I would point that your references to the installation of wind-generated-electricity in Manitoba in regards to actions that reduce Manitoba's emissions seems misleading. The only way that this could be true is if your government was to acknowledge that emissions from hydro-electric reservoirs are higher than you presently acknowledge. Is this the interpretation that I should take? I am a firm believer that we need expanded wind-generating capacity in Manitoba, and I am critical that your government will seemingly also fail to meet the target of 1000 megawatts of installed wind generating capacity by 2015. However installing wind energy will not at present significantly reduce Manitoba's emissions. There are many other good reasons for pursuing alternative renewable energy, such as wind and solar, particularly micro-generation, but in the context of Manitoba these arguments are more about energy autarchy than significant GHG reductions.

Lastly, the fact that Manitoba is a relatively small GHG emitter is also no excuse for failure to reduce our emissions by 6%. While there are some unique challenges in that the bulk of Manitoba's emissions originate from a larger number of small disparate emitters, rather than a smaller number of large emitters, it should also be acknowledged that our relatively low level of emissions in comparison to other provinces means that a 6% decline is that much smaller of a reduction that needs to be achieved.

Answers in Manitoba need to focus on behavioural change and demand management, particularly for our transportation and agricultural sectors. Further, and much more significant investments in public transportation, possibly even making it fare-free may entice urban people to drive less. Following Saskatchewan's lead in implementing a crown-owned inter-city bus carrier may likewise improve access to transport in rural areas. Likewise truly supporting a Manitoba transition towards organic and locally based agricultural market can help to reduce the GHG emissions related to the transport of food. Moving away from the production of and application of synthetic fertilizers, would also help to reduce Manitoba's GHG emissions.

There are many opportunities for Manitobans to both better themselves and the Manitoba economy, while also lessening our impact on the planet. I would be happy to sit down and discuss this further if you wish.

The 6% reduction in GHG emissions below 1990 levels should only be a starting point, followed by further reductions in the future. It is fair enough for this government to acknowledge it's failure, although further consideration to the timing of said announcement should have been given, but the objectives should not be abandoned. Instead, it should be at minimum be reaffirmed that we remain committed to reducing emissions below 6% below 1990 levels, a new target date should be set, and we should look at why we failed to achieve our objective and attempt to learn from this failure. I truly hope that this promised new energy plan will be an attempt at accomplishing this.

In summation, I would like answers to the following questions:

1. When will the new energy plan be announced?
2. How will the public be able to provide input on this new energy plan?
3. Will your government make the basis and underlying assumptions for Manitoba GHG emissions public? If so how?
4. Can you provide a break down of how the $145 million, promised alongside the Climate Change and Emissions Reduction Act was spent, including if any of the promised money was not spent?
5. In your Government's opinion, what are the annual average emissions from hydro-electric reservoirs, if any?
6. Will your government remain committed to reducing Manitoba based emissions significantly below 1990 levels? Is so by what date do you now expect to reduce emissions below 1990 levels and by how much?

I thank you in advance for a timely response to these questions. Should you need further clarification on any of my concerns and/or questions, or should you want to discuss the matter personally, I would be happy to sit down and meet and discuss matters over the phone. My e-mail and cell-phone number can be found below.


James R. Beddome
Leader, Green Party of Manitoba


1 Mychalo Prystupa “Manitoba Fails Its Own Climate Change Law” CBC (December 6, 2011), online:
2 Government of Manitoba “ Kyoto and Beyond: Meeting and Exceeding Our Kyoto Targets: 2002”, online:
3 Gary Doer's August 14, 2009 speech at the NDP convention in Nova Scotia (see 20:05 to 22:17), online:
4 Konrad Yakabuski “Gary Doer sells oil sands from coast to U.S. coast” Globe and Mail (August 24, 2011), online:
5 Transcript of Bill 15 Press Release (April 11, 2008), Manitoba Legislature, Winnipeg, MB (pp. 12-13), online:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wolseley Was Rob'd

I am proud of the Green Party of Manitoba effort in the 2011 election campaign. With a very limited buget we fielded a record number of candidates, finished with a record number of third place finishes, gained the credibility of being included in the televised debate for the first time ever, and garnered more than 10,000 votes. But unfortunately we were not able to win a seat.

Not being able to represent the people of Wolseley stings! If I may jest for a moment, Wolseley got Rob'd.

Jesting aside, I called Rob on election night and congratulated him and we agreed to sit down and see how we can work together.

Issues that I can see myself working with Rob on include:

-Keeping new genetically engineered crops out of Manitoba, as I have had some previous e-mail correspondence with Rob in regards to that mater.

-Working to change animal husbandry practices, particularly the practices of confined animal feeding operations.

-Working to amend the Highway Traffic Act to clarify how practicable, is as “right as practicable.” Working to create clear legislated standards would work to the benefit of cyclists and motorists alike.

-Working to demonstrate that free-fare transit is a sensible idea that will save money over the long-term – particularly after the savings from to MPI, hospital, and emotional trauma costs from reduced traffic congestion and collisions are taken into account.

-For years Greens have been lobbying to eliminate, or at least significantly decrease the use of pesticides, and a logical place to start is a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides as is done in or in the works in the majority of Canadian provinces. In the dying days of the last Government, which was of course re-elected they promised to enact legislation preventing the cosmetic use of pesticides in consultation with industry stakeholders. This later qualification is worrisome, and I hope to work with Rob to ensure that Manitoba brings in the strongest and most comprehensive legislation possible in regards to prohibiting the use of pesticides in particular circumstances.

There of course are many additional issues that need addressed - too many to address in a single blog entry - I encourage all readers to share additional suggestions with me.

The point beng is that I am not going anywhere. I live in West Broadway, I will continue to serve as Leader of the Green Party of Manitoba and work with Mantobans to create a better future.

Thanks to the many people who supported the Green Party of Manitoba campaign with their money and time. Thank you to the 10,000+ Manitobans who voted Green. Together we are slowly but surely making progress.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vote Your Conscience. Vote on Issues.

In this upcoming federal election, I wish I could convince Canadians to Vote their conscience and to vote on issues. As most of you know I am the current Leader of the Green Party of Manitoba, but what I am talking about goes beyond this. Certainly I want you to vote Green, but more than that I actually want you to vote in who you truly believe. I want you to research issues and vote your conscience on those basis alone.

It was quite comical the other day, when sitting in a restaurant having a bite, I ran into a local politician with known ties to the NDP. The politician jested at me have you heard about this biased CBC questionnaire – apparently most of the NDP affiliated politicians were being told to vote Green by the CBC's Vote Compass. I had to swallow first, I had taken the Vote Compass and the damn thing told me to vote NDP (I am obviously voting Green BTW)! We had jovial laugh though, with the politician asking with a smirk why is it that the poll is telling so many people to vote Green, and me replying because of course we have the best policies (see: Vision Green is available on As the Councillor left I thought to myself how engaging and enjoyable that exchange was – That's how cross-partisan politics should be I thought.

So what should we take from the fact that a CBC poll is telling voters to look at parties outside of their traditional comfort zone. In short, not much. But, I think it means that perhaps voters should take a closer look at what the respective parties have to offer, and should really think about what their conscience is telling them and vote for who they truly want.

Chris Rock's blunt words express it best:

"I'm conservative", "I'm liberal", "I'm conservative". Bullshit! Be a fucking person! Lis-ten! Let it swirl around your head. Then form your opinion. No normal, decent person is one thing, okay? I've got some shit I'm conservative about, I've got some shit I'm liberal about.”

Do we really think that a web quiz should be determinative?

Now I am not trying to knock the vote compass. Unlike Stephen Harper and the C.R.A.P, or Layton and the N.D.P. I am not going to argue that the survey is biased (see Winnipeg Sun, March 30, 2011 “CBC defends voting tool that appears to lean Liberal”). Rather I would argue that it is limited, and people need to understand it for what it is: a heuristic device (an entity that exists to enable understanding of, or knowledge concerning, some other entity). The political realm is simply too vast, too complex, to be pigeon holed into a circle which denotes degree of left and right economic and social policy.

Nor am I saying that people should quit taking the quiz on the CBC website. Au contraire, the quiz is a great for people to begin to engage themselves, but they need to go further - they should look into their results on a question by question basis, and they choose some of the questions which interest them and research these issues even further. People need to engage in politics more: they can organize debates in their community; or they can get involved with a political campaign; and they should put more effort into the latter activities rather than the first activity of completing a 10 minute online survey.

We elect people to manage our tax dollars, our ecological resources, and to a certain extent our cultural direction as well. Perhaps placating your desire to know “who you should really vote for” is better served by: reading up on issues on your own, or calling or visiting each and every individual candidate (if possible) and determining for yourself who you want to vote for, rather than relying on an entertaining web device to make the decision for you.

This election we need to make it about something more than election web surveys, and viewer response polls to the latest attack campaigns! We must engage people in the issues, and the political process itself, we must get people to think about ideas that go beyond their pre-conceived notions. I think we can, and the Green Party and Elizabeth May are truly working to make this a reality! This is why we need Elizabeth May in the Parliament, and we need her in the debates!

Secondly people need to vote their conscience this upcoming election. Strategic voting is ironically a bad long-term strategy as it actually creates less option over the long term.

Let us use the sale of beverages in a chain of convenience stores across the country as an analogical heuristic device to explore the issue further. Right now said store has four beverage choices which are offered consistently: coke, diet coke, orange crush, or cold water from a fountain; in Quebec bottled water is very popular but it is not available elsewhere in Canada; and up to fifteen other varieties are offered sporadically across the country.

However people are being told that they need to drink coke or diet coke. Coke because: “It is that good old-fashioned coke!” Diet Coke because: “It is so-o-o much healthier than regular coke!” If in response people decide not drink water from the fountain, not to drink orange crush or the numerous other small brands, then eventually these options may disappear.

This is the folly in strategic voting and our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system.

The following snippet from the comments of the CBC website is particularly telling about the malaise in our democracy:

“I want to vote Green, but the Green candidate here won't win, so my vote would be lost. Even if I vote for my second preference, the piddly petty candidate in my riding won't win, so again: my vote would be lost. I don't want to vote for the candidate whose win is a foregone conclusion. So what do I do, not vote at all?”

We need proportional representation, but at the same time Canadians need to recognize that every vote says something. Voting is about democracy, and to be deceived away from voting your true conscience undermines democracy – over time deteriorating the political choices offered.

Greens offer a different approach to democracy! We believe in proportional representation, we believe in meaningful grassroots citizen engagement, and Elizabeth May is trying to promote a democracy of respect – where politicians don't score points for acting like buffoons.

Firstly even if the candidate of your choice is not elected, the vote is certainly not wasted. Voting for a candidate provides moral support, even if the ballot is not cast for a winning candidate behind that vote is a democratic individual expression of choice, adding credence to the ideas that candidate espoused.

Secondly political parties receive subsidies. Your vote delivers a few dollars a year to the party of your choice provided that they received more than 2% of the vote across the country. From this subsidy the Conservatives received $10.4-million; the Liberals received $7.3-million; the NDP received $5.0-million; the Bloc Québécois received $2.8-million; and the Green Party received $1.9-million.

Now Stephen Harper wants to cut the per vote for “budgetary reasons”, which is kinda funny when the man was voted out of office because his Government was found in contempt of Parliament for not disclosing the financial costs of fighter jets and prisons, and for guarding his minister who inappropriately and without authorization rejected funding to respected Canadian not-for-profit organizations doing overseas aid work.

But even if we want to talk about the budgetary impact of subsidization of political parties why is Mr. Harper only talking about the $27.4 million per-vote-subsidy which provides parties with stable funding proportional to their proportion of the vote garnered? Why is he not talk about the other subsidies to political parties? Election expense rebates the Parties worth $29.2-million combined, and Candidate rebates worth $28.7 million. The two combined more than double the size of the per vote subsidy. I think that most Canadians feel their vote is worth even more than a few dollars, and they would rather see political parties rewarded for earning votes rather than spending money during an election.

The dilemma facing the Canadian electorate is to elect who they truly want, rather than who they are told to vote for. Hopefully Canadians have the wisdom to vote with their conscience and to vote on the issues, and capabilities of candidates, rather than focusing on polls and political shenanigans.

CBC Vote Compass “Canada Votes 2011”

The Hill Times, Jan 20, 2011: “Comparing the per-vote subsidies to all federal political subsidies”

Winnipeg Sun, March 30, 2011 “CBC defends voting tool that appears to lean Liberal”:

Chris Rock (HBO 2004) “Never Scared”, on Wikiquotes

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Elizabeth May Should be in the Debates!

So once again the television consortium has decided not to allow Elizabeth May in the debates. Even though the Green Party could theoretically form government, while the BQ could not! This is not say Duceppe should be excluded from the debates, quite the opposite. I am saying Canada needs to hear more political voices – particularly a few more feminine voices!

The Debates are fundamental in helping people to discover more about their democratic options as citizens. It is in the best interests of Canadians if all parties are involved in the debates.

Greens received nearly a million votes in the 2008 general election. The Greens have a definite perspective, and is the only party prepared to offer a detailed 131 page plan for voters to read years before the election. (Vision Green:

By excluding Greens (along with the other smaller parties) the democratic debate suffers. So what can you do if you want Elizabeth May in the deabtes?

Sign the petition:

Send a text message to the Chair of the Media Consortium, Mr. Troy Reeb of Global TV on his cell phone at 647-261-3752

Email the news directors of consortium members CBC, CTV, Global, TVA

Email party leaders Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe

Forward this infomation to your friends and family


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tax Credits Are No Way to Fund Post-Secondary Education

I attended a debate On March 2, 2011 hosted by the University of Winnipeg Politics Society, as the Leader of the Green Party of Manitoba. Representatives from all four other political parties were present. The possibility of a University of Winnipeg faculty strike was raised several times and was clearly on the minds of students and faculty. Other concerns raised included: student debt, rising tuition fees, predictability of funding and corporate involvement in universities.

At the debate I tried to point out that while it would take time to move towards a system of universal access to education it clearly could be done.

Education is after all one of the classic examples of a public good. Education is a huge economic driver! And this warrants subsidization because of the overall positive benefits. An educated population drives innovation and facilitates the creation of new ideas leading to better ways of doing things. A vibrant economy is created when individuals, businesses, and organizations have access to educated population. Society needs people of all gambits: tradespeople, businesspeople, medical professions, teaching professionals, agriculturalists, and these skill sets and so many more must be learned somewhere.

College or University education is increasingly required in today's job market. European countries, particularly Scandinavian nations, manage to deliver extremely low-cost or even free education. Quebec delivers education to its residents at a substantially subsidized rate. So what is stopping us from taking similar action in Manitoba?

Now the common response to this is that we cannot afford to lower tuition fees, but is this actually true?

Using 2009 Statistics Canada data, we can see that Revenues of Universities and Colleges in Manitoba is ~$1.116 billion:

-The Manitoba government contributions ~$559 million, or around half of the revenue;

-The Canadian government provides ~$93 million, which adds up to less than 10% of revenue;

-Students pay ~$214 million in tuition fees, contributing to around 20% of revenue;
Local governments in Manitoba contribute ~$12 million;

-And the remainder is generated by Universities and Colleges themselves.

Looking at these numbers, clearly the federal government has not pulled its fair share since cutbacks in the mid-nineties.

That said education is a provincial responsibility, so the province needs to be willing to go it alone if the Federal Government fails to cooperate. Now to be fair the NDP have increase funding for post-secondary education, but these increases have quickly been eaten up.

A 'Dipper' Post-Secondary Education pamphlet handed out at the debate claimed an “80% increase in annual provincial funding for Manitoba's colleges and universities since 1999 – while the consumer price index rose only 22%.”

What the pamphlet neglected to address is that according to Council on Post-Secondary Education 2010 data between 1999 and 2009 university and college enrolment increased by around 35% depending on whether it is calculated on the basis of absolute number of students, or number of full-time equivalent students.
This adds up to a roughly 65% increase in costs, once the 22% CPI inflation and 35% increase in enrolment are factored together.

The same 'Dipper' pamphlet also bragged that the “Manitoba tuition fee rebate” and “Federal tax credits” equated to “An excellent deal for Manitoba students and Manitoba's economy.”

With respect, I could not disagree more!

Federally post-secondary education tax credits are worth $1.8 billion across Canada. Re-directing this money away from tax credits and funnelling it directly towards post-secondary institutions, and student loan, grants and bursary programs could unleash desperately needed funding for Universities across Canada.

In Manitoba the situation is much the same provincial tax credits for post-secondary education cost Manitoba about $25 million per year, and the new tuition fee rebate is estimated to cost up to $90 million per year.

The NDP Government commissioned report on post-secondary education, written by Dr. Ben Levin, explains the problem with tax credits quite well:

“...evidence suggests that the tax credits are not effective in encouraging enrolment in higher education ... Students from higher income families are the main beneficiaries of tax credits... for students of modest means the credits are not helpful because the money does not arrive when it is needed. Cash at the start of the year is much more important than the promise of a refund or credit in the future... about two-thirds of the value of the credits claimed in Canada each year is not used by students in the year earned. Instead, these amounts are transferred to a parent or carried forward to a future year. This means that most of the benefit, already indirect, is not available even within a year of the expense being incurred. ... Accordingly, accessibility would be improved if funds were used for direct assistance to students rather than for tax credits .” (p. 32-33)

I love Manitoba! As a student presently studying law in Manitoba, with the intention of establishing a Manitoba practice I will likely qualify for the 60% tuition fee rebate. So I personally stand to benefit, but from a public policy perspective I have to wonder: is a $90 million dollar tax cut - worth more than 40% of the value of annual tuition paid by Manitoba students - the best use of government revenue?

As a student I will receive up to an additional $250 tax credit in 2010, that will increase to a maximum of $500 in subsequent years. But why not just reduce tuition by an equivalent amount? I need the cash in fall when I am starting school, not in spring after I file my taxes.

Once I graduate and begin working in Manitoba I will be eligible for a 60% rebate of my tuition fees over as little as six years or as long as twenty years. But few graduates think about tax liability when selecting a new job; they are much more concerned with opportunities for advancement and the terms of compensation. Is this tax credit really going to attract the best and the brightest, or is it just going to give up to a $25,000 tax cut to people like myself who are likely to stay regardless of the tax fee rebate?

Even if retention is the aim of this tuition fee rebate it would seem to be more logical to target rebates for needed professionals, such as doctors and nurses in Northern and rural Manitoba. The rebate could be tied to a contractual agreements that would require the individual benefited from the the rebate to service needed areas. Such a targeted approach would seem to be more effective and economical.

For me the money spent on post-secondary tax credits could be spent more wisely. Tuition fees could be lowered, universities and colleges could be given more funding to retain and reward great staff and ensure that best technology is available thereby improving the quality of my education, funding to student aid could be increased so that more students qualify, and there is so much more that could be done if we moved away from the idea of using tax credits to fund post-secondary education.