Evaluating Media

As a followup to my post from a couple of weeks ago on supporting good journalism, I thought I’d post a link to a website I discovered a year or so ago. You may have seen the graphics from this website on social media. The site’s owner has developed a valuable methodology for evaluating news media.

When looking at an article or post, it is important to be able to evaluate the reliability of the information. I’m sure most of use do this intuitively to some degree. For example, I know to take articles from Huffington Post with a small grain of salt. And that Occupy Democrats or The Rebel are mostly political rallying points with little news value.

Venessa Oterro’s website, Ad Fontes Media (Latin for “from the source”), examines two important elements of media outlets. The first is the amount of left-right bias. The second is a measurement of the news value of the content. The site is regularly updated with revisions to the chart. Oterro also discusses how she develops her rankings and posts insights into why various sites earn their ranks.

The site’s content is, unfortunately, almost entirely American with a smattering of British media. I think, however, that most people can derive their own evaluations of Canadian media from her analysis.

Welcome to the New Epoch: This is not good news

While it isn’t official yet, the earth may be entering a new epoch. And the reasons for this are not good news.

Many of us are probably aware that science has identified a number of distinct geological eras throughout history. We may not know the names off by heart but early Silurian, middle Ordivician, and, of course, the legendary Jurassic will be familiar.

We’re currently in the Holocene epoch which covers the last 11,700 years. Geologists mark the beginning of this epoch at the end of the last major ice age. As such, it is characterized by a stable climate, temperate weather, and a generally comfortable environment. This is the era in which humans developed and thrived; it has supported the development of agriculture and given us good access to food, water, clean air, and lots of land.

Scientists have suggested that we’ve shifted into a new epoch. Unlike every previous epoch, this new era is dominated not by natural cycles but by man-made change. Our activities on this planet have been so profound that we have outpaced geological processes. So much, in fact, that we may be driving the planet out of the stable and hospitable Holocene and into conditions that may not have existed for millions of years. This single idea; that we have changed this planet so much that it will leave a distinct mark on the long-term geological record, is, well, earth-shattering.

This study is looking at the current earth trajectory in a geological sense. It asks some hard questions about what impact we are having. Is there a tipping point beyond which a stable environment is impossible? Where is that point and what happens when we cross it? What must we do to prevent reaching that tipping point? These are hard questions but it is absolutely vital that we answer them. And act on them.

Welcome to the Anthropocene.

 

Journalism and Democracy; Taking a Stand

Today, newspapers across America are answering a call by the Boston Globe to run editorials denouncing Donald Trump’s attack on journalism.

It is an important issue. We may not always be happy with the news we read. We may not always agree with the opinions expressed in editorials. There will always be bias in journalism and, of course, we will run across articles that do not align with our own biases. There will be times when we will be fuming mad because we don’t agree with something we read. This is okay and is just as it should be. Journalism should be something that challenges us and asks us to think critically.

It is entirely up to us to understand the difference between news and opinion. It is up to us to understand that bias exists, to be understanding of it in other people, and to be willing to see it in our own beliefs, opinions, and actions. We can, in fact, learn to appreciate difference of opinion. In doing so, we encourage building better solutions.

We build sustainable democracies by ensuring the free movement and discussion of ideas. That includes, of course, the challenge of standing up for the right to speak opinions which differ from our own. It also includes denouncing efforts to weaken journalism through intimidation, threats, and bullying.

Following are a few links to editorials including one from Canada’s National Observer:

National Observer (Canada)

Boston Globe

The New Yorker

The New York Times

The Atlantic

 

In the News This Weekend

I have to admit that when I saw the news of Elizabeth May’s behaviour this weekend, with reports of bullying from some former staffers, I wasn’t particularly surprised. Disappointed, yes, and worried about what it meant for the Green Party in general. But not really surprised.

It took a bit of introspection on why I wasn’t surprised. I don’t know May well, but I’ve had the opportunity to meet her and work briefly with her in a policy development group. She’s outspoken, yes, but clearly highly intelligent, hard working, and very determined.

I worked in a large corporate entity many years ago, somewhat akin to politics, I’m sure, in terms of the power dynamics. I’ve known these women; the ones who are working successfully at high levels in a male dominated field. Although I hesitate to speak for women, I think there is probably some truth to the idea that women have to be tougher and more vocal than men to work in, and get respect in, that environment. There is truth in the idea that they will be held to higher standards of behaviour and judged more harshly than the men they work with.

It is possible that these complaints come from former employees who have an axe to grind for perceived slights. Clearly, there are numerous people who have worked closely with May for many years and have considerable respect for her as a politician and as a friend. I doubt you can get very far in politics without ruffling numerous feathers.

So, no, I wasn’t particularly surprised because, well,  these stories almost certainly have at least a grain of truth in them.

It appears party officials are rushing to rally around May and downplay the accusers’ stories. This is an unfortunate mistake. We’re in an era where owning up to your actions is important. It is important to make sure that those that feel victimized get heard fairly and respectfully. It is important to determine, as much as possible, in a not-very-black-and-white-world how much truth there is in the stories. It is important to make appropriate amends, wherever possible; from personal amends to improvements in party complaint processes.

It is also important, as difficult as it might be in a one-MP party, to recognize that this MP is not the party. There are many good and capable people in the Green Party. There are clear signs that Green values are speaking to people, as evidenced by the growth in party popularity in B.C. and P.E.I. For me, personally, I remind myself that I came to the Green Party long before I had a real inkling of who Elizabeth May is. I have read her books, heard her speak, and come to admire and respect her, but she is not the reason I’m here.

I hope these grievances get resolved in a respectful and dignified way. And I’ll remain optimistic that, no matter what, the party will learn and grow from this experience. At the end of the day my commitment to the Green Party, and the values it embodies, goes beyond a single person.

Blair Mahaffy

Note: Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect GPC party policy or the policy of our EDA.

Energy: Sources and Uses

By Gary Martens

Our economy, any economy involves work and work requires energy. The human body is a very efficient machine in terms of work. A fuel efficient car might be able to travel 100 kilometres on 5 litres of fuel, but the human body only needs 0.8 litres of fuel (energy equivalents) to travel the same distance. We extend our ability to do work by using machines run on crude oil, natural gas, electricity and other non-human sources of energy.

The energy used to run the Manitoba economy can roughly be divided into thirds. One third of our energy goes into transportation. Over 90% of transportation energy comes from crude oil. The other 10% comes from ethanol additives. One third of our energy is electricity and over 95% of that comes from renewable hydro power (4% from wind, 1% from solar and solid biomass). And one third of our energy goes to heating buildings and for manufacturing. Most of that comes from natural gas.

I will focus here on the one third that goes to transportation. This is almost completely derived from crude oil.

In terms of energy we can look at Canada in two distinct regions: western Canada and eastern Canada. According to the National Energy Board of Canada we produced 217 million cubic metres (mm3) of crude oil in western Canada in 2015. We consumed only 18% of that in western Canada, 39 mm3 . We exported 178 mm3: 17.4 mm3 to the west coast, 50.5 mm3 to the United States and 110 mm3 getting to eastern Canada or to eastern and US exports. The proposed Energy East pipeline could carry 36% of total western exports, that is, 64 mm3 to eastern Canada or to exports off the east coast at St John, New Brunswick.

While western Canada is a net exporter of crude oil, eastern Canada is a net importer. Eastern Canada consumed 64 mm3 in 2015, but produced only 10 mm3, almost all of that off-shore. It imported another 33 mm3 from the US and points east.

It is interesting that the Energy East pipeline proposal has a capacity of 64 mm3 which is exactly the total consumption of eastern Canada.

Manitoba produced 2.7 mm3 of crude oil and consumed 3.5 mm3 in 2015, but we have no refinery capacity so our refined products like gasoline and diesel fuel come from the Cooperative refinery in Regina (capacity 7.5 mm3) and sometimes from Edmonton by the Enbridge mainline which leaves Canada at Gretna. A smaller pipeline takes some of that oil to Winnipeg. Trucks distribute it from Winnipeg to retailers.

It will be very difficult switching the goods and freight transportation sector to an alternative fuel because diesel fuel has no substitutes that are as energy dense. Diesel fuel has 36 MJ/litre compared to the best lithium ion batteries which have 4.3 MJ/litre. This means that we will have to look at reworking the entire supply of goods sector if we want to reduce our dependence on crude oil. How to do that and the opportunities that can arise for southeastern Manitoba will be addressed in a future article.

This the second article in a series focusing on “A Path to a New Energy Economy” where we want to introduce the issues around the proposed Energy East pipeline. This pipeline will pass very close to Isle de Chenes, Landmark and Ste. Anne. The series will conclude with a free public lecture about the proposed pipeline on February 15, 2017 at the Jake Epp Public Library.

A New Energy Economy

By Gary Martens 

We are beginning a series of articles focusing on “A Path to a New Energy Economy” where we want to introduce the issues around the proposed Energy East pipeline. This pipeline will pass very close to Isle de Chenes, Landmark and Ste. Anne. The series will conclude with a free public lecture about the proposed pipeline on February 15, 2017 at the Jake Epp Public Library.

A new energy economy is necessary, attainable and desirable. Our current extensive dependence on fossil fuel energy makes us vulnerable to price and supply changes as well as to weather and climate changes. All this affects our well-being. Inevitably we are reluctant to change to this new energy economy because change is difficult, especially if the status quo is working so well for us. How well do we understand the potential benifits as well as the risks of continuing with the status quo?

There are many reasons for the difficulty with change, I will mention two. First, a change to a new energy economy will take a long time; we need time to build new infrastructure and we time to train ourselves in this new way of powering our economy. Second, the fossil fuel industry is being subsidized to the tune of $1 billion per year making alternatives relatively more expensive and reducing the research and investment into alternative energy sources.

Jeff Rubin in his new book “The Carbon Bubble” says that Canada, in the last 10 years, has pinned its hopes on becoming an energy superpower. We already know that bubble has burst. Jeff Rubin goes on to say that we should look at the opportunities the new energy economy will provide to us. In western Canada that is food production. Many places have the technology to produce food but lack two essential requirements: land and water. These two requirements western Canada has in abundance.

But we just said that the transition to a new energy economy will take a long time. What do we do while we are in this transition?

Do we allow and even promote the proposed Energy East pipeline which according to TransCanada’s website claims will supply eastern Canada with Canadian energy while we transition to a new energy economy? Or do we believe the National Energy Board’s website which claims the project will include marine facilities in St. John, NB that enable access to other markets by ship; that is: exports. If the Energy East pipeline is for the export of oil, do we support that? Is the poster “Our risk, their profits” as the protesters proclaim, accurate?

And then there is the matter of fossil fuel transportation. During this transition period, fossil fuels will for sure need to be transported. What is the safest method of transporting them? Pipeline, rail, highway or sea?

In Manitoba, where does our energy come from? If the Energy East Pipeline does not happen, what impact would that have on Manitoba? What are the opportunities to produce new energy in Manitoba? How well suited are we to provide affordable, renewable energy?

These fundamental questions need to be addressed for our own long term well-being. Certainly they need to be addressed by the experts, and they will be addressed by our politicians but they also need to be addressed by an interested public. This public has everything to lose if we get it wrong but everything to gain if we get it right.

Respect, Cooperation, Consensus

I’m back in Provencher from Calagry with a well exercised brain and a warmed heart.

The second day of the SGM felt like an exercise in contrasts after Saturday’s hard work. The meeting was far behind schedule because of the complexity of the work on Saturday which left workshops and most of the other policy motions for Sunday.

After a bit of work getting ducks lined up people went off to various workshops of their choosing. The workshops craft the policy motions. Sometimes these motions are already fully prepared, at others, the motions may be being put together from scratch.

While I was very tempted to head to the workshop that was dealing with a package of Indigenous issues, I followed my first instinct to attend the workshop on Electoral Reform. Part of the draw was because I’m passionate about the subject but it was also because this was the only case of a ground-up construction of a policy and I was very interested to see how it worked.

It might sound odd that we had to have this workshop at all but the party only as a very broad policy that electoral reform should include some form of proportional representation. Clearly, with the work of the Electoral Reform Committee wrapped up, more definition was required. This provides people knocking on doors with some concrete information on policy and provides our MPs (Elizabeth May in this case) with direction on party policy.

We had only two hours to build a policy in a room of seventy people. Choosing a prop rep system to get behind is not easy; there are many different forms and variations of forms and there were a variety of opinions in the room. A survey of the room found that most people supported Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) while there was strong support for STV and some for Rural/Urban (which is less well understood).

In a remarkable show of solidarity, a number of supporters of other system, declared that in the interest of having a reliable policy in place they would be willing to move aside.

Remarkably, and only a few minutes late, we crafted a new and meaningful policy on Electoral Reform that included:

  • Supporting MMP as the preferred system of PR with room to accept alternatives such as STV or Rural/Urban.
  • Supporting a referendum if the referendum was only between proportional systems or the referendum were held after two elections under a proportional system
  • Directing the party to create a task force to study public education on electoral reform.

 

Once done, we headed back to plenary for discussion of the various policy proposals from the workshops. Unlike Saturday, which had a lot of stress surrounding it, Sunday’s proposals were met mostly with consensus and, in some cases, unanimity. The plenary managed to get through most of the motions and wrapped up only about fifteen minutes late and passed policies on:

  • Opposition to the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge Line 3 pipelines
  • Support for implementing recommendations from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Report.
  • Rebuilding and Recognition of Original Indigenous Nations.
  • Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery
  • Affirmation of the value of consensus based governance
  • Affirmation of post meeting ratification of policies
  • The electoral reform policies mentioned above.

The spirit of cooperation and respect in the room was palpable and was a great way to wrap up a hard working weekend.

 

Democracy in Action

It has been an interesting day in Calgary, for this political conference newbie.

The Palestine related issues were the primary focus of the day. This made a lot of sense as, in my opinion, it got the most complex and divisive tasks out of the way. We’ll see if reality proves me wrong again tomorrow, but I think from here forward things become more constructive.

In fact, today was very constructive, despite the potential divisiveness of this issue. While there was considerable discussion, the compromise proposal passed. It did not achieve consensus on the first vote but in the next phase of voting (see yesterday’s post about how the voting works) it passed with an 84% approval. It is effectively policy as of this time but needs to pass a party wide online ratification between Dec 7 and Feb 6.

It speaks volumes about how this party approaches democratic processes. They work hard to make sure people are heard and are respectful. In fact, there is  a “fairness panel” in the room who occasionally step in to remind people to be respectful and they may be called upon to resolve issues of fairness. A great deal of effort is made to make sure people fully understand the issue or procedure before votes are taken (which is another purpose of the yellow vote – to seek clarity).

Some of the most complex parts of the day were procedural. There were a number of policy motions that were related to the compromise proposal and were essentially rendered unnecessary or redundant by the passing of the compromise proposal. It took awhile to sort out just how to handle those.

At the end of the day, the outcome is that a better policy was produced. It was hashed out over the last few months by a number of dedicated individuals. All of them had to make compromises in their position to craft this broadly supportable policy. They should all be congratulated on their achievement.

 

 

Hello Calgary

Hello Provencher Friends,

I’m in Calgary this weekend for the Green Party SGM (Special General Meeting). To make a long story short, this meeting came up as a result of the BGM this summer in Ottawa. A policy motion was passed on the topic of BDS – boycott, divest, sanction – movement. This movement has its roots in Palestine but has many Israeli supports and is about numerous issues surrounding Palestinian / Israeli relations. I don’t want to go into too much details on the specifics here as that isn’t the intent of my post. Suffice to say that the original policy created some considerable debate in the party and there has been some determined effort to create a compromise agreement that will satisfy both the original sponsors and the concerns of many of those opposed.

What I do want to do is talk about this weekend in broader strokes. This is my first time at a political party conference and I thought some other people in our riding might like some insight into the inner workings of our party.

I read the SGM program document on the way out here tonight (yes, sadly, on a plane – but I took public transit to the hotel for what it is worth). While most of the document discusses the proposals that are being discussed this weekend, the introduction focuses on how the meeting is run. This gives some great insight into the principles of the Party.

Unlike many organizations, the GPC doesn’t use Robert’s Rules (or, at least, usually doesn’t; it has experimented with them). You all know Robert’s Rules as the “motion, second, all in favour, passed” process. It is fast and efficient but it isn’t particularly good at achieving consensus. Approving something when 49% of the room is opposed to it isn’t a good way to build effective teams.

Instead the GPC uses consensus building tools. Attendees are issued three cards; green, yellow, and red. Green means “yes”, Yellow “Pass”, and Red “Opposed”. Yellow votes have a bit of context depending on when they are used. It may indicate that you want more information or clarity. It can also mean you are standing aside; that you may not agree but do not wish to get in the way of a motion passing.

Edited on Dec 3 as the real world showed me I wasn’t quite accurate. A proposal must achieve full consensus to pass initially. If it doesn’t the plenary (the people) have to decide what to do with the proposal: Table it (save it for later), send it to workshops for more work, or carry out a vote which must achieve a 2/3 majority to pass.(For a motion to pass 66% approval is required to approve a motion. Motions not passed may go to a workshop, which anyone can participate in, to develop a better motion or, if it is decided that consensus can’t be reached, it may be abandoned.)

It will be very interesting to see how this all works in the real world over the next two days. For the most part, as a newbie, I’ll be simply observing what is going on and placing my own votes.

Things start early tomorrow morning so it is time to get some sleep. There are lots of interesting and constructive motions on the table and I’ll post a few comments on how things are going as time goes by.

Cheers,
Blair Mahaffy

Note: Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect GPC party policy or the policy of our EDA.

 

Carbon Pricing: You’ve Got it Wrong, Mr. Falk

It is with great disappointment that I note that your party has decided to oppose the Liberal Carbon tax by portraying it as a tax grab. The government is saying this tax will be revenue neutral – that is it will not be an increased tax [tax grab] but a tax shift. There is nothing inherently conservative about opposing a tax shift and my hope is that Canadians will see the shallowness of this approach, and reject it even as they rejected your party’s scare mongering about Justin Trudeau’s youth and Islamic immigration in the last election.

Justin Trudeau has said the tax is to revenue neutral. (Note that I am using the word ‘tax’ rather than the term ‘carbon pricing’, because I agree with you: Mr. Trudeau is proposing a tax on carbon.) According to the announcement, the provinces, not the Ottawa government will determine whether the this new tax will in fact be revenue neutral.

We know that BC has had a carbon tax since 2008. This tax has not been a tax grab. It has been revenue neutral. The BC government has reduced corporate and income taxes by an amount equivalent to its carbon tax. BC now has the lowest personal income tax rate in Canada, and one of the lowest corporate rates in North America. Your insistence that this new tax is a tax increase is scare mongering, and is not a service to the Canadian people nor to the conservative cause.

We also now know that the BC tax has affected behaviour (which was its intent). Since the tax came in, fossil fuel use has dropped in BC by 16 percent; in the rest of Canada it has risen by 3 per cent. And this has not been because the BC economy has been sluggish. In fact BC,s GDP has slightly outperformed the rest of Canada since 2008.

It is misleading and a disservice to both the Canadian people and to the conservative cause to assert, as you are, that the carbon tax will take money out of the pockets of Canadian people, thereby killing jobs. Yes, the carbon tax will take money out of the pockets of some Canadians: those Canadians and those Canadian companies using large amounts of fossil fuel, but it will put that same amount of money into the pockets of other Canadians and Canadian companies economizing on fossil fuel. You seem to be suggesting that in order for our country to continue to prosper, we need to continue subsidizing energy guzzlers and penalizing energy economizers. I hope Canadians, including conservative Canadians will see through the shallowness of that argument.

I have referred above to Mr. Trudeau’s carbon plan as a carbon tax. Mr. Trudeau calls it a ‘Price on Carbon’. I think he is also correct Anyone burning fossil fuel, simultaneously does two negative things: he is putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and he is making this valuable fuel unavailable to future generations. But he is not paying for this detrimental activity. Society in general pays and future generations will pay for this. Surely you, as a conservative, agree that this is neither right nor efficient. A price on carbon corrects this injustice, at least up to a point.

I see nothing conservative about the current norm where the primary source of government revenue is a tax on income and a tax on profit. On the other hand, a tax on the consumption of a scarce resource builds on sound conservative values. This is a call for you to return to your conservative roots and embrace a tax shift that would be good for the country now and even better for generations to come.