Friday, July 22, 2011

On the Green Party platform.

Finally -- for now, at least, until the Tories and NDP release the rest of their platforms, and the Libs release anything at all -- I'm going to take a quick look at the Green Party of Ontario's platform. It's the shortest, and the slimmest when it comes to significant detail. Then again, if the GPO has any serious ambitions for this election, they involve being taken seriously. Much as with the GPC in the election prior to the most recent, the GPO is really insignificant, electorally speaking. (Quick -- without looking, who knows who the GPO's leader is?) So, this platform has to be an attempt to get themselves situated as significant and worth taking seriously.

I'm not sure they've succeeded.

Oh, and, this platform seems to be called "It's Time". I don't think that the focus groups got their hands on that one -- which is a plus, I suppose -- but shouldn't there be some more words there? It's time for... jobs? Environmental responsibility? Mike Schreiner (that's the GPO's leader, BTW)?

Creating jobs for a 21st century economy

Tax cuts and balanced budgets. Reducing "red tape". Investing in research and development. Improving high-speed internet access (what?). Freezing tuition and spending more money to maintain university and college budgets. Expanding training and certification in green jobs areas. Spending on apprenticeships and similar.

This is a weird mix of left-wing and right-wing thinking. On the one hand, we've got some investment in research, education, and (some) infrastructure. On the other hand, we've got tax cuts, elimination of regs, and balancing the budget. I've never gotten how that tightrope can be walked successfully, and I don't see that the Greens are really engaging with that problem here.

If you're cutting taxes and spending lots of money, you're increasing the deficit dramatically. Given that, how can the budget be balance, as the platform promises, by 2015? Similarly, if you're cutting regulations on small and medium-sized businesses, as the platform promises, how are you going to be able to ensure that Ontario improves in green buildings, renewable energy, and other clean technologies?

Harnessing safe, affordable energy to power our communities

Expand home energy savings program. Capture waste heat and convert to electricity. Cut regulations to promote innovative energy technologies (what?). Support micro-generation. Increase hydro generation in Ontario and purchase hydro from other provinces. Oppose nuclear plants and other expensive investments. Promote efficient communities with safe streets and roads. Support transit and commuter benefits, including tax credits and more HOV lanes. Increase incentives for green vehicles.

Again, note that this is an odd mix of right-wing and left-wing thinking. It seems a little more comfortable here, as the GPO is largely assuming that there's a vast market of untapped potential for green energy generation, transit improvements, and so on, and all government needs to do is step back and let it run free.

If this reminds you of Rob Ford's magic Sheppard subway, it should. I have no idea why the GPO believes that there's all this interest in micro-generation which just requires a little nudge to go over the top. I really don't see why a few incentives here and there would be enough to get private enterprise to reach out and produce solar panels, etc., nor why this would encourage most homeowners to buy the damn things.

Some of this is also wishful thinking. The idea that we can institute some sort of reform at the provincial level to make communities greener, by being "safe" and "efficient" is lunacy. The bedroom communities surrounding Toronto, for example, don't work as cities or towns in their own right. (I have lived in Newmarket, BTW.) Large open fields filled with quickly-built developments, separated by long roads leading to strip malls populated by big box stores is not the sort of thing the GPO has in mind, I'm sure, but that's the reality of these sorts of towns. The cost to convert them into something livable -- with most services and resources within walking distance, or serviced by reliable transit -- is, I'd suspect, in the trillions.

Similarly for increasing hydro capacity in Ontario. There just isn't that much to dam, particularly if we're not going to be building nukes and are going to be hoping that individuals will invest their own money into microgeneration schemes.

The sorts of energy policies that one would expect from the Greens will need a lot of government investment, and that money will have to come from somewhere. Cutting taxes and regs and hoping the private sector will step in is Rob Ford logic. (I of course use that last word loosely.)

Promoting access to quality, sustainable health care close to home

Support the development of healthy, liveable communities. Reduce pollution, improve water quality/sewage treatment, pay landowners for producing healthy goods and services (what?). Provide incentives for people to pursue healthy lifestyles and support nutrition, outdoor education and athletic programs. Support doctors, nurse practitioners and other health professionals for family/community care clinics. Create an electronic health records system. Improve home care, and other senior services. Create case managers in the family clinics for coordinate seniro care. Support all long-term care facilities to ensure good services.

Much of this is actually good policy. The first point about liveable communities is still, as said above, aspirational. It'd be nice, but short of tearing down the suburbs and starting from scratch, it ain't gonna happen in our lifetimes. The rest is quite reasonable, as far as I can tell.

However, it's going to cost a lot of money. In this instance, at least, the Greens aren't pretending that the taxcut fairy will make their budget numbers work out. But I see a lot of spending, a lot of new regulation, and no real explanation of how it's going to be paid for. If it's really time for the Green Party, perhaps they should tell us how this is all supposed to work?

Feeding our communities by championing stronger local farms

Coordinate a healthy school food program. Investing in community food programs. Set Ontario food purchasing targets for all public institutions. Establish a council to coordinate planning for local food systems. Reward farmers for providing environmentl and community benefits. Invest in rural infrastructure, etc., to support local farms. Eliminate regulations for family farms. Eliminate tax penalties for farms. Improve income stablization for farms.

Apparently, this is the year of buying local and currying favour with rural voters. That's all I got out of this section. There's nothing here defending the idea that local farms are a good thing -- which they aren't, at least not necessarily -- and no discussion of how we're supposed to get to enough farms, on enough land, to support Ontario's population.

The unthinking and reflexive support for local farms reminds me of the movement in the (if memory serves) 18th century, in France, where the nobility would have these little faux farms constructed, so they could swan about by the riverside dressed as shepherds and recite bad poetry, while sheep gamboled all around. (Of course, there were a bunch of peasants behind the scenes whose jobs involved making damn sure those sheep gamboled on command, or else there would be mutton for dinner.) I suspect that these sorts of policies are laid down by urbanites who haven't done any of the legwork to figure out (a) what rural voters would actually like (hint: not all rural voters really want to be farmers), and (b) whether it's economically or environmentally sound to try to fence Ontario's food system.

I had the same problem with the NDP's policies on the "buy Ontario" thing. I'm not going to say I'm in love with free markets, but I do know it's dangerous to screw with them with protectionism. So, unless you've got some really important goal -- and "keeping family farms open" doesn't seem to cut it -- it's a policy choice to be avoided.

Delivering government that works for people

End backroom deals and no-bid contracts. Post public contracts online. Streamline FOI requests. Implement community engagement process. Ensure residents have a say in community health care decisions. Give citizens a greater say in public consultations. Strengthen conflict of interest rules. Disclose public officials' expenses. Eliminate corporate and union donations to political parties.

Some of this is completely insane. Putting contracts out there, in full detail, for the public to go over is a recipe for dual disaster. First, I'm not sure how many corporate entities would be comfortable with having their contracts with the government displayed for public perusal -- so, some may simply opt not to do business with the government of Ontario.

Second, we're likely going to get a hyped-up version of the periodic feeding frenzy over politicians' expense reports. Without context or explanation, some big numbers will be trotted out in headlines in newspapers and on TV, and everyone will get all agitated that someone, somewhere spent $100K on towels or something. Not saying that all public spending is justifiable, but we're not in a political culture that allows for that kind of justification to be offered. Without a mechanism to ensure that the frenzy doesn't get going, this is just asking for it.

Allow a greater role for citizens to get involved is a weird issue for me. On the one hand, I can see the appeal of listening to members of communities. On the other hand, our MPPs are supposed to be our representatives, not our delegates. That is, once we've sent them off to Queen's Park, they're supposed to get on with doing the job of governing, not coming back every week asking what it is they were supposed to do again. Not to mention that the process the Greens seem to be proposing runs a serious risk of being hijacked by monied interests and professional lobbyists.

Budget projections

The Greens include some budget projections in the back. Like the NDP, it's basically chart porn. I notice, though, that the Greens' numbers seem entirely detached from reality. They're projecting greater increased revenues than under the (I presume) Liberal budget, despite the fact that their platform doesn't call for any tax increases that I saw. They're also projecting less program spending, despite the fact that their platform seems to call for a bunch of new spending.

I don't take charts like this seriously, as a rule. It's weird to note that the Greens didn't seem to take it seriously, either.

Overall

The only part of this that's got some decent ideas is the healthcare section. The jobs section is mostly fantasy. The energy section is fantasy. The farms/food section looks dangerous. And the transparency/governance section is just... weird. I really don't think they thought that one through and just chucked it in as an "and another thing". Also, am I the only one who thinks it's weird there's no crime policy and no education policy?

So far, if you can't bring yourself to vote NDP for some reason, you may as well vote Green rather than Tory. the NDP's platform, as incomplete as it is, is still the best of the ones out there. But it's not shaping up to be an election about many good ideas.

Will the Liberals come through with a magical plan of wonderment and delight? I've yet to be convinced that a plan even exists. So, as far as I'm concerned, at this point in time, voting Liberal in October would be a matter of tribal loyalty rather than sensible reflection.

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