Monthly Archives: May 2014

Ontario Election: My Inner Debate

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I’ve wrestled with a number of different ways to voice my frustration about this Ontario election.

The key word being ‘frustration’.  Not joy or elation or even apathy.

Frustration.

The Liberals must be removed from office.  They have run out of ideas and they are abusing their position of power.

Tim Hudak and his team are so incompetent that they can’t schedule a debate on the right date.  If it was an intentional error, they have no right to lead this province because they have no respect for democracy.

Among dozens of other issues, they have no capacity to understand that a ‘million jobs’ would be impossible to deliver.

Then there’s the NDP.

The NDP have blown it.  COMPLETELY.  They’ve taken their platform in the wrong direction.  That’s all I’ll say about this.

The media continues to bitch about the cost of an election and continues to erroneously blame Andrea Horwath for our upcoming opportunity to determine Ontario’s fate.

And voters aren’t asking enough questions.  The level of apathy seems to be unprecedented.

What would make me happy?

Andrea Horwath and the NDP picking up steam and winning this election.  With a majority.

How should they run Ontario?  With great caution.  Don’t go crazy and give the mainstream media an excuse to call the NDP commies and be objective with unions, not caving to any and every demand.

The good news right now?  We’re fortunate enough that our local candidate is also the best candidate … and they are with the NDP.

Unfortunately, the worst candidate (a Conservative) may benefit from a vote split.

I’m back to being frustrated again.

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A Request for ALL Conservatives …

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Do as your leader Tim Hudak does and please do not show up on election day, much like your miserable leader will fail to join a debate prior to election.

If your leader doesn’t believe in democracy – nay, spits on it by not making an appearance for the benefit of all voters – I dare say that your support of this nonsense should come with a penalty of forfeiting your right to vote.

It has become evident that he too is concerned about his ability to talk in public without showing his contempt for the electorate.

Too harsh?

Too bad.

That’s how it looks to this voter.

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Fossil Fuel Subsidies

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Or … Our Taxpayer Dollars Being Flushed Down the Tubes

You know, the other day, my kid came home with a test question related to ‘fracking’, or hydraulic fracturing, the deplorable and unimaginably stupid way to obtain fossil fuels from sensitive groundwater systems.

The question asked him to identify 3 ‘pros’ of fracking.  I told him there were none.  It’s like asking someone to list the three pros of smoking or racism.

Fracking is just a last desperate grab at fossil fuels that diverts billions of dollars from environmentally ‘gentle’ ways to generate energy from renewable sources.

But to top it all off, I read that the Harper Government (aka Big Oil) is diverting more than $38 BILLION per year to the fossil fuel industry.

It’s disgusting, really.

So much wasted on an industry that doesn’t need a penny of public dollars.

So many thousands of hours wasted on highways – made out of tar from fossil fuels – commuting into work every day.

So many people waiting for public transit that just doesn’t come.

So many public schools without funding or working with unworkable student-to-teacher ratios.

So many taxes that we pay to fund fossil fuels.

So sad.  So sad.  So sad.

 

 

While Canada slashes budgets for research, education and public broadcasting, there is one part of our economy that enjoys remarkable support from the Canadian taxpayer: the energy sector.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that energy subsidies in Canada top an incredible $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and uncollected tax on externalized costs.

These figures are found in the appendix of a major report released last year estimating global energy subsidies at almost $2 trillion. The report estimated that eliminating the subsidies would reduce global carbon emissions by 13 per cent. The stunning statistics specific to this country remain almost completely unreported in Canadian media.

Contacted by The Tyee, researchers from the IMF helpfully provided a detailed breakdown of Canadian subsidies provided to petroleum, natural gas and coal consumption. The lion’s share of the $34 billion are uncollected taxes on the externalized costs of burning transportation fuels like gasoline and diesel — about $19.4 billion in 2011. These externalized costs include impacts like traffic accidents, carbon emissions, air pollution and road congestion.

The report also referenced figures sourced from the OECD showing an additional $840 million in producer support to oil companies through a constellation of provincial and federal incentives to encourage fossil fuel extraction. This brought total petroleum subsidies in Canada in 2011 to $20.23 billion — more than 20 times the annual budget of Environment Canada.

In comparison to other countries, Canada provides more subsidies to petroleum as a proportion of government revenue than any developed nation on Earth besides the United States and Luxembourg.

Natural gas consumption also enjoys billions in subsidies in Canada. The IMF estimates that un-priced carbon emissions from burning natural gas added up to $7.3 billion per year. There’s another $440 million in producer support and $360 million in other un-taxed externalities, all of which tops $8.1 billion. This tax giveaway on natural gas alone is 44 per cent more than Canada provides in international aid every year.

What about coal? Canada consumes over 30 million tonnes per year. While we currently export over half our domestic production, the IMF study only considered externalized costs within our own country. They found that the coal industry receives $4.5 billion in annual subsides — almost all of this is un-priced carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions. This generous largesse towards the dirtiest of fuels is about four times what the CBC receives in public support every year.

Or we could spend that on…

What could Canada do with an extra $34 billion a year? Both Vancouver and Toronto are struggling with how to fund long overdue upgrades to public transportation. Subway construction comes in at about $250 million per kilometre, meaning we could build about 140 kilometres of badly-needed urban subway lines every year. Light rail transport (LRT) is about one-quarter of the cost of subways, meaning for the same money we could build about 560 kilometres of at-grade transit infrastructure.

This foregone revenue in less than two years could fully fund the Big Move transit plan for southern Ontario, providing affordable access for 80 per cent of people living from Hamilton to Oshawa. Toronto’s transit system has languished for decades. This sorely needed infrastructure would save the average household thousands in wasted time sitting in traffic, and Canada’s economy billions in reduced congestion costs.

The proposed Vancouver subway line to the University of British Columbia could be built using less than two months of the subsidies provided every day to the energy sector. Forty kilometres of rapid transit in Surrey could be had for about the same amount.

What about green energy infrastructure? Adding solar and wind capacity provides some of the best job-generation per dollar of any option available — more than seven times the employment from an equivalent investment in oil and gas extraction. Extrapolating the findings from a 2012 report on green jobs, $34 billion could create 500,000 person years of employment and install more than 150,000 megawatts of clean generating capacity. Canada currently ranks 12th in the G20 on green energy investment and has been steadily falling behind our competitors.

Canada’s infrastructure deficit of crumbling roads and outdated water and sewage treatment is pegged at $171 billion. This backlog could be wiped out in five years with the revenue we are subsidizing to the energy sector.

Of course, not all things of value can be measured by bricks and mortar. Thirty-four billion dollars each year could provide $10-a-day childcare for 5.5 million children ages 0 to 5. Canada’s child care costs are currently the highest in the OECD.

No free lunch in energy costs

For all the complaining Canadians do about fuel prices, it’s ironic to note the IMF essentially says we are undervaluing the true cost of gasoline by about $0.30 per litre. Compared to other nations, Canada enjoys some of the cheapest gas in the developed world. Fuel in Italy and Germany is almost double our price at the pump. Ever think it’s odd that bottled water at the gas station costs more than the fuel you just put in your tank?

Consider for a moment all the costs of finding and extracting crude oil, shipping it across the globe, refining it into gasoline and trucking it to your neighbourhood. Not to mention the billions spent by some countries projecting military power into volatile oil-producing parts of the world and the very human price of those interventions. Additional un-priced costs after petroleum is burned, such as climate change, traffic congestion, road accidents and air pollution make gasoline perhaps the most subsidized substance on Earth.

Every decision based on artificially low energy prices can have years of unintended consequences. If gas is cheap, people will choose to buy cars rather than take transit, clogging both our roads and emergency rooms. Transportation accidents alone cost Canada $3.7 billion each year. Every vehicle bought based on low fuel prices will produce years of carbon emissions, and every owner over the life of that vehicle will have an interest in voting for cheaper gas.

The opposite, of course, is also true. Less than half of Vancouverites in their early twenties today have chosen to get a driver’s license, down from 60 per cent 10 years ago. Better public transit and more expensive car ownership seem to be the main factors driving this remarkable demographic shift.

The IMF can hardly be accused of being a left-leaning, alarmist organization. Through this valuable research, they make the case that there is no free lunch in energy costs, and we exclude these externalized costs at our peril.

A country can be judged on what it chooses to tax and what it chooses to subsidize. And by that yardstick, this nation currently seems to care more about cheap energy than almost anything else.

Read more: Energy,

 

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Tim Hudak’s 0% Unemployment Plan

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Tim Hudak and the Ontario Conservatives have bravely announced that he will completely and absolutely eliminate unemployment in Ontario.

What’s that?

Here’s the math, all based on figures from Statistics Canada:

  • Ontario’s population:  11.3 million
  • Labour force:  7.475 million
  • Employed:  6.919 million
  • Unemployed:  555,600
  • Unemployment rate:  7.4%

Tim Hudak’s ‘Million Job Plan’ (make that 1.1 million after cutting 100,000 workers from the public service in Ontario) would offer 2 jobs for every single unemployed person in Ontario.

This really is sheer genius.  Nobody has done this simple math yet and nobody seems to want to call bullshit on Tim Hudak for having creating a baseless campaign loaded with promises that his party would NEVER be able to fulfill.

Ultimately the question is that if the man is capable of using broadstrokes and tired Conservative ‘go-tos’ like ‘tax cuts’, ‘efficiencies’ and ‘privatization can do it better and cheaper’ to bring the unemployment rate TO ITS KNEES – something that no human being has ever done before – why the hell is he wasting his time with little old Ontario?  Why not go on to the big leagues like the UN or the US Department of Commerce or Labour and solve chronic unemployment issues on an American or global scale?

I mean, that kind of genius is simply wasted on us little Ontario folk.

In other words, go away.  Take your lies elsewhere.

Moral of the story for Ontario voters:  please put your thinking caps on when it’s election day.  If you don’t, you will certainly regret the Dark Days to Come Under Tim Hudak Conservatives.

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A Tesla Tour of NYC

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A couple of weeks back, I went to Manhattan with my family and organized a scaled-down version of a ‘Geek’s Tour’.  Now, I’m fully aware that this tour will be sorely lacking for many, many things related to geeks, but there a specific theme: Tesla.
No, not the car company.
Nikola Tesla, the creator of modern electricity as we know, the AC Induction Motor, business partner to many, especially George Westinghouse, and overall genius that time almost forgot.

Nikola Tesla first arrived in America in 1884 with about 4 cents in his pocket.

Over the years, he went from extreme poverty to unbelievable wealth, only to die a pauper.

Without Tesla, we wouldn’t have electricity as we know it today.  If Edison, JP Morgan and others had their way, electricity would have been a luxury commodity that only the few would have.

This is a whole other topic, which I hope to chat about some day.

Manhattan was Tesla’s destination, a change from Europe and home to the world’s greatest and forward-looking industrialists, especially Thomas Edison, a man he admired.  Until Edison screwed him over.

Even though Manhattan today is a manic, insanely busy town, it was relatively easy to slow things down a bit and imagine a world without, with and without Tesla again as we explored a few of the locations.

We visited 9 locations in Manhattan:

  1. 89 Liberty Street, home to Tesla’s first lab
  2. 175 Grand Street, in what’s known now as Little Italy, site of his second lab
  3. 49 West 27th Street, Gerlach Hotel, his first home
  4. Broadway & 6th, home to Delmonico’s, where he ate nightly while he had money to spare
  5. 33-35 South Fifth Avenue, LaGuardia Place, site of his third lab
  6. 46 East Houston Street, location of Lab IV
  7. ‘Nikola Tesla Corner’, at West 40th Street & Avenue of the Americas (just near Bryant Park), where Tesla made a daily routine out of feeding pigeons
  8. 40th Street West, between 5th and 6t Avenue, Engineer’s Club, where Tesla presented his plan to implement Alternating Current (AC) in 1888, changing industrial history forever
  9. 34th & 8th, Hotel New Yorker, Room 3327, where he spent his final days talking to pigeons and wondering what happened to humanity.

I’m sure we could have added more, such as sites famous to Edison, but really don’t feel that loathsome man deserves anyone’s reverence, let alone time for a detour while on vacation.

Some spots that I missed:

  1. Central Park, where he tested his wireless and radio controlled boats and machines for the amusement of pedestrians (and long before anyone could grasp what wireless remotes meant)
  2. Location unknown:  when Tesla first tested radio and sent radio transmissions to assistants in his labs, long before Marconi did anything with radio transmissions
  3. Wardenclyffe Tower, on Long Island, where Tesla is said to have built one of the first energy distribution nodes of his planned network, long since taken down by Morgan et al

And many, many other spots.

If you know of any favourite spots, please post them in comments.

Thanks!

With special thanks to Kim Mance, travel writer extraordinaire!

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