Friday, April 29, 2016

RE: Building a Culture of Energy Literacy

Dear Minsters Duncan (Science), Bains (ISED), and Joly (Heritage),

CC: Wayne Long, Member of Parliament Saint John-Rothesay

I write to you today hoping that your offices will take a bold step exercising soft power and entrench energy literacy into Canadian culture. I implore you and your advisory staff to discuss the benefits and feasibility of a National Energy Museum.

National museums show the undeniable politics of everything. National museums are public warehouses for facts that tell the 'official' story of Canada. Our national museums of history, nature, art, science, and most recently human rights articulate facets of Canadian culture that have been chosen to endure indefinitely. National museums are a lens, a platform for conversation, and a reproduction of power relations. Using the warehouse metaphor, the facts we put in the warehouse can change, but the fact that we build a warehouse for the purpose of collecting and displaying certain facts is a pillar of nation building.

As the Liberal government reassesses cultural policy and moves to ambitiously stimulate innovative and sustainable growth in Canada, I urge you to consider how curatorial power might be wielded to forge a better world.

Energy is the pressing conversation we need to entrench in the Canadian identity. Canadians have a long and complicated relationship with energy, and those stories deserve to be told from a scientific, historically accurate, and decolonizing perspective. Let's build a Canadian Museum of Energy to teach the controversy. These stories can instill energy literacy in future generations of Canadian and world citizens. Canada's new Chief Science Office(r) could play an integral role in assuring that our complicated relationship with energy is told with facts rather than donations.

Energy literacy is well funded in Ontario already. The province is investing $1.35 million into energy literacy initiatives over the next three years educating students on ways to conserve energy and help fight climate change through the Ontario EcoSchools program.

Saint John stands out to me as the obvious host city for an energy museum, but I'm partial to New Brunswick getting any help it can. The Irving refinery, Point LePreau nuclear generation station, and an untapped potential for tidal power make Saint John a hot spot for energy discussions. There are geographic benefits to Saint John too. The city is both home to an active port, which regularly has cruise ships in harbour, and on New Brunswick's Highway 1, heavily traveled by American motor tourists.

The key to a sustainable future is robust public conversation about energy. Canadian cultural and economic policy should be harmonized to entrench innovation and environmental stewardship in the Canadian identity. A National Energy Museum is an amazing opportunity to engage Canadians with energy facts, legacies, and possibilities.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Lefty Against PR

I find myself dramatically out of step with my progressive cohort when it comes to democratic renewal. I hold a Green Party membership, but I've been an NDP member, and I'm excited about the prospect of the NDP taking a harder line on redistributive and environmental policy. My partisan allegiance has always been ephemeral; I suppose you'd call me a "Leaper". Both the Greens and NDP support proportional representation as the alternative to our first-past-the-post system, but I don't.

PR would undoubtedly be best for these parties, but not for Canada. First-past-the-post distorts the political will of the country and results in vote loss and voter disengagement. The argument for PR is simple: the government makeup should reflect the vote percentages each party receives nationally. PR solves vote loss and infers solving voter disengagement by diversifying the opinions represented in the House of Commons. It sounds too good to be true, and it is.

Why PR doesn't work

The foremost flaw with PR is the loss of regional representation. The issues of the Territories are not the issues of Atlantic Canada are not the issues of the British Columbia. One national PR run-off would preclude the participation of regional parties (like the Bloc). If regionalism is stripped from our representative federal democracy, Quebec voters lose their distinct representation in the House of Commons. This problem, however, is a fixable one. Several PR run-offs could balance regional and ideological representation at the federal level.

Other issues with PR are not solvable. The hyper-partisan nature of PR also steps on the little guy, literally. PR screws over independent candidates. I believe that a person should not have to be bound to a party to serve as an elected representative. Required partisan association is contrary to freedom of expression and conscience.

My harshest critique of PR is that we need to trust political parties to choose and order a list of potential MPs from within their own ranks. The processes that would determine the lists would be plagued by nepotism, elitism, and rural under-representation. Those privileged at the tops of party lists could be practically guaranteed indefinite re-election. I'm also fearful that, meaning well, parties would administer gender parity in their party lists. Gender parity is oppression for non-binary and indigenous genders packaged as equality for women.

PR advocates under-think the problem Canadian democracy faces. They tend to start with the agreeable assertion that the percentage of party votes should be reflected by the House of Commons, and then they make concessions until cognitive dissonance. Such is the case for mixed-member proportionality (MMP), the overly complicated system that boasts all the flaws of both PR and FPTP. Under MMP each elector gets a local candidate vote and a national party vote. The House of Commons would be arbitrarily split into a number of constituency MPs and list MPs.

I have a fundamental problem with their being two routes of election to the House of Commons. There is unity among parliamentarians because the shared singular fair process brought them together from every corner of the country. I hate the idea of list MPs having a backdoor to parliament.

So what will work? Ranked ballots

Single transferable vote elections (STV) are what Canada needs. The assertion that PR is the only way to solve vote loss is wrong. Ranked ballots also solve vote loss, but do so by more comprehensively recording preference than single-choice ballots. It will be cheaper and easier maintain our current ridings and switch to ranked ballots. Many Ontario municipalities will do so for their next election.

Ranked ballots should also be better, in theory, than PR at provoking voter engagement. Both PR and STV mediate political discourse in effort to produce compromise and sustainable politics, but where this mediation happens is totally different for each system. PR elects fringe parties so that in houses of parliament discussion is more robust, diverse, and in need of collaboration to become law. STV mediates political discourse at the candidate level. If you have to rank the candidates, you have to know what the difference between them is.

Ranking candidates nudges political literacy by stimulating conversation on the ground about social & economic policy. Broadening participation in Canadian politics should reasonably be a better strategy for social change than placing a handful of articulate social justice advocates among the neoliberals and pragmatists who run the country.

I don't think Canadians want to give up their ridings, and they shouldn't have to. STV preserves regional representation and independent candidacy, solves vote splitting among progressive parties, and encourages political literacy. When I vote in 2019, I hope it's on a ranked ballot.

Ranked ballots explained with cats, a dog, and British narrator!