Mum, before you send that e-mail correcting my grammar to “Randy and I” let me explain that it is a reference to the documentary film, “Roger and Me” by Michael Moore. My story is a little different, however. I didn’t have much trouble meeting my Member of Parliament, Randy Kamp, and I encourage everyone to reach out and introduce themselves to their representatives.
I hope you won’t be too disappointed if I devote a post to politics. Unfortunately, politics has hampered the ability of Maple Ridge homeowners to afford to reduce their energy bills and carbon footprints.
The City of Maple Ridge did all they could (my post about that here).
The Province of British Columbia is supportive as far as their commitment to Liquified Natural Gas will seem to let them be (my post about that here).
It is more difficult to reduce an older home’s efficiency now than it was 10 years ago and local companies have disappeared as a result, taking good local jobs with them.
James Rowley, Politician
I ran for School Trustee of School District 42 (Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge) last October.
The central theme of my campaign was long-term thinking. Sensible funding for education now leads to smart, resilient people later and avoids future costs of youth who fall through the cracks and shortages of skilled labour, etc.
The School Board was being asked to “do more with less” year after year to the point where core programs were, and still are, under threat. The trustees take the hit for a Provincial government who sees the best way to get re-elected as balancing the short-term budget at the expense of the long-term well-being of the province.
Aside from believing I would be a good trustee, I had some ideas about bridging the gap between the Provincial government who sets the education budget and the citizens of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge whose children and future suffer with inadequate resources. Good education is always a bargain. There is some fairly simple math there but people don’t vote based on numbers, they vote based their own internal compass. I wanted to bring the cuts home to the public by sharing more of their day to day impacts on the lives of people in the community.
I earned 3206 votes which is pretty good for a first foray into politics (the Mayor of Pitt Meadows was elected with fewer), but it didn’t earn me a seat on the School Board. (See the results here.)
Nevertheless, I promised to share my finances with the world, so here they are in a nutshell (you can see the full form here):
Amber Light Photography donated their services for my
campaign headshot to the tune of $309.75. Jennifer Zickerman, who runs the Hammond Neighbours website, donated my domain name and hosted my website, a value of $608.00. I had 6 people generously donate $100 each –namely my parents, my mother-in-law, Leanne’s aunt, Vicki Mcleod and Deb Pearce (thank you everyone!). I put up $1000 of my own money and managed to pay myself back, more or less.
$843.20 for postcards and flyers.
$623.00 for internet promotion.
$490.01 for 50 signs.
$404.63 for postage.
$70 for meetings and all candidates events.
I mention all this because I think of it when I see all those signs and advertising everywhere. Those small signs are $10 each! Those big ones must be…what? Fortunately for the candidates in the federal election, there is a lot more money coming from their parties, (Steve Ranta, Independent, is the exception) but they are still donating their time to win our support and only one can win.
During my run for a seat on the School Board, I reached a few conclusions about local politics.
1. It’s tempting for a candidate to make dire predictions of terrible things that will happen if they are not elected. It gets attention and separates you from the pack. Unfortunately, because we live in one of the most highly evolved democracies in the world and we have competent, experienced civil servants, best practices, infrastructure and laws that prevent another holocaust from happening, these dire warning serve mostly to turn voters off the whole process altogether. They can see that things are basically okay. Maybe they conclude the hysteria is all just hype.
What we are really doing when we elect someone is choosing the best person for a job. It’s a job which requires, among other things, excellent communication skills, a broad understanding of the many challenges we face, the ability to tell fact from opinion and the strength to speak truth to power. The key, however, is the ability to work together with other elected representatives and achieve consensus on what action to take.
2. “Why are you running” is an important question, but a hard one to get an answer to. If there is one particular issue the candidate is passionate about, what will they do when faced with building consensus on a subject they have no interest or knowledge in? Similarly, if there is one segment of the riding that a candidate represents, he or she needs to demonstrate a commitment to the rest, too. Vague answers like, “I feel I can make a difference” are actually a good sign, (as long as they are followed up by thoughtful responses on a range of issues, of course.)
Randy Kamp and his wife visited Hammond Forever House in July 2015 when I was giving tours of the house “before” and raising awareness of the possibilities and challenges of preserving and retrofitting existing houses. Since he is a conservative-minded person it was easy to chat with Mr. Kamp about older homes and the desirability of preserving them. We chatted about the history of Maple Ridge and agreed that things aren’t made like they used to be.
Putting some money and sweat equity into fixing up an old house seems like a conservative idea to me. You’re investing in the long-term and not wasting a perfectly good house. It’s like the boots analogy I made last year: buy the higher quality boots and you save money down the line.
It seems to me, however, that this Stephen Harper brand of Conservative that we have running Canada is different. He would prefer we buy the cheap boots made in China so we have to buy another pair in a few months and “grow the economy.” He would seem to prefer the destruction of older homes and the building of new ones.
Not true? How else can I explain what Randy told me next?
I told him my opinion that leadership on the slippery problem of Climate Change should naturally come from the Federal government. I said I hadn’t been able to figure out why the ecoACTION home efficiency grants had been cancelled when they were working so well–reducing emissions, building local green industry, etc.–until I realized that maybe it was considered economic stimulus and nothing more.
His response surprised me in that I had the impression that he was a little tired of life within the Harper bubble. He spoke of a budgetary process where stimulus measures were being discussed. As far as he was aware, he said, most MPs agreed that the ecoACTION grant should be the one to stay, but it was the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister who overruled them, saying that they believed economic stimulus must be short-term and targeted. If they made an exception they would be breaking their own rule.
I don’t remember if that was the moment he quoted Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform Party from which this current government grew, “Everybody has their say, but not everybody has their way.” (Mr. Manning has some criticism for the party he started these days.)
I pointed out that these efficiency incentives only work if they are sustained so that homeowners can plan a year or two ahead and the industry can stabilize. Mr. Kamp said the government’s concern was that people might get money for work that they would have done anyway. It seemed like a very cynical attitude toward homeowners who are willing to invest in reducing their carbon footprint. When you consider the much larger subsidies still flowing to oil companies it can’t be simple budget tightening.
What was most disturbing about my conversation with Mr. Kamp was his fatalistic attitude. There was not a moment of consideration for how he, as my MP, could help the situation. About the magnitude of our planned renovation he said, “better you, than me.” Physically, there was a kind of shrug that came out from time to time. It’s hard to describe but it seemed to say, “I hear what you’re saying and I wish there was something we could do about it.”
I’m now wondering if this is what laissez-faire capitalism looks like. Do not interfere. Government should be small and if the market says that older homes will be tossed away and replaced like last year’s smartphone, then so be it. The free market has spoken.
What happened to communities coming together like they did in Hammond in the 20s to assemble a neighbour’s new house? Are we all on our own now? Isn’t it still good economics and good neighourliness to pool our resources and buy in bulk?
What about the fact that Climate Change will cost Canada and its people an estimated $5 billion per year by 2020? We’re going to need to all pull together to get ahead of that, and we look to Ottawa for leadership. That number came from the Canadian National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy in a 2011 report. The report is very easy to read. Here is a taste:
Based on NRT original economic modelling, the report finds that the economic impact on Canada could reach:
- 2020: $5 billion per year
- 2050: Between $21 and $43 billion per year
In the 2050s:
- Timber supply impacts could range from $2 billion to $17 billion per year with high impacts in B.C.
- Flooding damages to coastal dwellings, resulting from climate change-induced sea-level rise and storm surges, could cost between $1 billion to $8 billion per year with higher than average cost impacts in Atlantic Canada
- Poorer air quality resulting from higher temperatures will lead to more hospital visits, resulting in millions of dollars in costs to local health care systems for four of Canada’s major cities – Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and Calgary
WHAT DID WE FIND?
- Climate change is expensive
- There is a risk that the costs could be far higher than we expect
- Adaptation can save us money
- Global mitigation reduces Canadian economic impacts and makes adaptation cheaper
- The costs of climate change impacts and adaptation are uneven across the country
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
- Ignoring climate change costs now will cost us more later
- Adaptation isn ’t cost -free but often yields benefits
- Adaptation policy and decision making can benefit from economic assessments
Shortly after this urgent report was released (download the full report here), in Spring 2012, the NRT was de-funded. Their reports are still kicking around, though. If you want the real story on Canada’s GHG emission targets (at least until 2011), check out this one:
It’s the same disconnect in logic that our current government demonstrates in saying it supports the CBC and its mandate to connect our diverse communities but that it should be able to support itself more through advertising. CBC is just not popular enough, they say, forgetting that Canada’s peoples are spread out across the second largest country in the world. No private enterprise can fill the CBC’s shoes. Without public funds, our outlying communities would be completely culturally ignored.
Mr. Kamp’s Department
As we wrapped up the tour by the garage where the Kamps had parked, Mr. Kamp told me that as far as tackling climate change, the other parties were no better than his. Other people higher up in the government have to think of the big picture. This wasn’t a surprising thing for him to say, but then his wife said to him, “It’s above your pay grade” and made everything clear. She was making light of the conversation, of course, and I don’t mean to attack Mr. Kamp for one off-hand comment his wife made, but I was struck by the ring of truth in her words.
Throughout all the radical changes the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has had to endure, my MP, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, was but a cog in a wheel.
Here is a chilling paragraph from a well-researched book that reads like a horror novel. It’s called The War on Science, Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada by Chris Turner. Here Turner describes changes made to The Fisheries Act as part of Bill C-38 in 2013. (Incidentally, I recommended the book to Mr. Kamp in January, 2014, but eight months later he had been unable to obtain a copy from the library. That’s understandable for I imagine it would be a difficult read for him.)
The revised Fisheries Act is a categorical departure from some of Canada’s deepest traditions: the recognition of the inherent and immutable value of nature; the vital role of government in representing and defending the public good against the excesses of industry; the idea that the public good itself possesses a value beyond the near-term profit of any given commercial enterprise; and the baseline assumption that economy is an instrument in the service of the public interest rather than a higher goal to be protected against the needless intrusions of the public at large. For more than a century, the Fisheries Act had stood in defence of these traditions, asserting that industry, whatever its merits and needs, could not act with impunity in the public sphere; that it must first demonstrate unequivocally that its activities would not take too high a toll on the commonweal. In a few tiny deletions and insertions buried deep withing a budget bill of a scope without precedent in Canadian history, the Harper agenda has inverted the entire equation. The commonweal, whatever its merits, must now demonstrate how its claim on the preservation of fish and their habitat supersedes industry’s right to profit from despoiling them. What’s more, the same budget bill and several other acts of Parliament have shuttered or shrunk many of the agencies responsible for gathering the data necessary to establish the health of those ecosystems and their value to the public, and the government has forbidden its public servants from telling Canadians what they have learned about those topics.”
Randy Kamp served Maple Ridge in good faith and with integrity. He is a nice man. As a former pastor I’m sure he has been a valuable member of his community. However, it was clear to me in the Pre-Budget Consultation meeting he held in January 2014 that he, like Stephen Harper, doesn’t understand science. In answer to a question from a constituent concerned about “the restoration of science as a tool for responsible decision making.” Mr. Kamp said:
“We had to ask ourselves, okay, you know, we’re committed to science but science has to be something that supports our mandate. Yes, we would all like to do more because it’s interesting and it answers questions that we’d like to answer but, for us, is this particular science effort answering the questions that we need to have answered in order to fulfill our mandate as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and in some cases we concluded that it didn’t fit anymore. That’s the way science works. Science changes over the years. If it doesn’t then it’s really not science.”
In his deep monotone Mr. Kamp sounds perfectly reasonable. What he fails to understand is that science changes because scientists pursue questions that are scientifically relevant, not because they are directed to by their political masters who know little of the implications of their research. What he failed to mention was that “supporting the mandate of the DFO” included giving the oil, gas and pipeline industries almost every change to environmental regulations that they asked for in a letter written to the Environment and Natural Resources Ministers on December 12, 2011.
Don’t tell me this was a budget belt-tightening excercise! This was part of the frontal assault on any research that was inconvenient to the industries, representing a small part of the Canadian economy, that Stephen Harper gambled would pull our economy out of the gutter. (It didn’t do that, of course, and instead of taking advantage of low oil prices to divest of fossil fuels and nurture clean energy, Harper doubled down.)
Another specific example of this attack on science is the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Facility (PEARL). Apologies to Chris Turner as I chopped this next passage up quite a bit:
PEARL is a modest facility, a simple red cube deposited on the desolate permafrost of Ellesmere Island. It sites well north of the Arctic Circle, just north of 80 degrees latitude and a mere 1100 kilometres south of the North Pole….PEARL provided the only Canadian window on weather and climate during that yawning four-month interval of unbroken winter darkness known as “the Arctic night.”
In exchange for this one-of-a-kind research facility, which produced dozens of globally important scientific papers and trained more than fifty scientists in the atmospheric sciences in its first six years of year-round operation, PEARL required $1.5 million per year in funding from CFCAS[Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Studies] After Bill C-38 passed, PEARL’s money vanished and its directors had to scramble for new sources of funding simply to keep the lab open during the warmer months.
The issue with PEARL was not financial. After all, the government had no trouble finding $270000 to fund a single six-week mission to find the remains of John Franklin’s doomed Arctic voyage and gather extensive sonar data on the Arctic Ocean’s sea floor. And just months after slashing CFCAS’s funding, Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled to Cambridge Bay, 1800 kilometres south of PEARL, to announce $200 million in funding for a new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), which is expected to begin operations by 2017. “The right place to do research about the North is in the North,” Harper told the CBC in Cambridge Bay. …On the officieal CHARS website, the first priority listed is “Resource Development” The third priority –after “Exercising Sovereignty”–is “Environmental Stewardship & Climate Change.”
Notice here that the Harper government can now claim to have saved money by reducing CFCAS’s funding, but when accused of not supporting scientific research, they can point to massive investments like CHARS and say their science budget has, in fact, increased. It’s very clever, but fundamentally dishonest.
There is, however, a logic at work in the closure of PEARL and the lavish funding for CHARS and the Franklin ghost-chasing mission. Here it is: if you intend to begin large-scale exploration for resources in the High Arctic but don’t want to know if it’s safe and ecologically sound to exploit those resources, the Harper agenda makes perfect sense.
The last part of the PEARL story is the sudden restoration of funding in May 2013 which coincided with The Obama Administration’s debate over whether to approve the Keystone XL. On this Turner surmises, “PEARL evidently possessed little value to the Harper agenda in and of itself, but it was useful as window dressing on a public relations campaign.
When you meet Randy Kamp you get the sense that he is a reasonable person who tends to plot a reasonable course. His low key manner, however, is in contrast to the reckless restructuring of the DFO and of Canada on his watch. All of his fellow MPs wanted to keep ecoACTION alive, but they were overruled because decisions like that are above their pay grade. Can we have any confidence that this situation will improve with a new Conservative Party MP elected in our riding? Our Conservative candidate worked in Mr. Kamp’s office for the past few years and he, like Kamp, is a former pastor, serving the Calvary Chapel in Pitt Meadows for seven years (the website of the chapel is http://www.goodnewscalvarychapel.com/ but it seems to have been deleted for some reason).
Okay, by now you have gathered that I am strongly against voting Stephen Harper back into power. So who do I support?
As I said, ordinarily, Canadian society chugs along basically okay. We have regulations and research and good people working for us that make sure our elected officials get the best information to make the right decisions. If public opinion is at odds with the best advice of experts, then a discussion takes place, compromises are made and the public learns a little in the process. I would like to say that we don’t need a revolution, we just need to hire good people, but I can’t. Not this time.
This Harper agenda is wilfully blind and we must rise up and vote it out.
Without Harper’s party, things would hopefully, slowly, return to normal. We could discuss the merits of the ideas and candidates of the other three parties: the NDP, the Liberals and the Greens (I would even support bringing back a Progressive Conservative Party, for gosh sake!). All three other parties support ending the divisive First-Past-The-Post system that resulted in a third of voters electing a majority government last time.
While the Liberals, Greens and NDP may try to convince us how different they are, I have no doubt that when these three parties get in a room together, they will be able to reach consensus. With Harper in the mix, all bets are off. Am I exaggerating the gulf between Harper’s Conservatives and the rest of the field? Take a look at the Vote Compass tool.
“Vote Compass is an educational tool developed by political scientists designed to help you explore how you fit in Canada’s political landscape.” says the front page. Enter your postal code and you will be asked a series of policy questions pertinent to this election. For example, one question is:
Much less Somewhat less About the same as now Somewhat more Much more.
(You can also select “Don’t Know”.) At the end of the questionnaire, you are placed on a graph based on your answers together with the 4 major parties. Even more interestingly, you can go over the questions and see where each party stands on each one. If you answer “about the same as now” or “neutral” for each question, you appear dead in the centre of the graph which means it is calibrated correctly. The positions of the parties, however, remain where they are because their answers did not change when you took the quiz.
It’s really cheating if I show you the final result. You should really do it yourself, but okay, here it is:
I think we can understand the basic economic scale of left and right. I’ve always thought of myself as a little left of centre, but lately I have come to understand that being a little further left doesn’t make me a communist. In fact, with long-term challenges looming like climate change, and an aging poplulation, investing more in the short-term will make for a stronger economy in the long-term.
Canada has a long tradition of sensible social programs which create a more resilient economy and compassionate society. These are predicated on the conservative notion of buying high quality goods once, instead of poor quality goods many times or fixing an old house instead of building a new one.
As you can see on the graph, Stephen Harper’s CPC is in a field of its own. Economically, Harper’s unreasoning belief in the trickle-down theory is matched by his social conservatism that, I suspect, is more extreme than most of his Progressive Conservative base. The other parties, meanwhile, are correctly positioned closer together because, in my humble opinion, they share a common respect for information-based policy making. Their policy platforms are based on facts, not ideology.
Now, I have to remind myself that this tool does not tell me where Canadian voters stand. A significant number of Canadians voted for the CPC in the last election and the Vote Compass graph then looked quite similar to this one. It is disrespectful to suggest that those voters didn’t know what they were doing, but I really hope they reconsider this time around.
From where I’m sitting–raising two kids in a heritage house and trying to reduce our impact on the planet–we’ll be okay if any of those three parties are elected.
I’m an optimist, but if the CPC get back in, I don’t think things will be okay.