Bureaucratic and Ideological Control Processes at Ryerson University

Universities are highly complex and interdependent systems, incorporating tens of thousands of students in addition to faculty, administrative staff, and alumni. Coordinating such a system requires enacting forms of organizational control to achieve institutional objectives. Most higher learning institutions, including Ryerson University, adhere to two central themes of control based on structure, hierarchy, rules, and creating a culture that perpetuates the institution’s values. As a student at Ryerson University, I recognize that bureaucratic and ideological control processes regulate my behavior and organize my university experience.

Bureaucratic control refers to a system of organization that employs a hierarchy of authority in addition to rules, policies, formal documentation, merit systems, and other behavioral control mechanisms.

Universities are one of the clearest examples of bureaucracy in action. As a professional communication student, I ‘report’ assignments to my various professors and adhere to their class structure. In turn, these professors report to their faculty (Faculty of Communication and Design), which reports to the broader university. The hierarchical aspect of Ryerson dictates the communication processes that occur between the institution’s stakeholders. Ryerson’s communication generally occurs in a top-down manner, with little opportunity for the students, which make up the bottom of the hierarchy, to engage with the institution’s key figures.

Ryerson’s bureaucracy provides structure, coordination, and logistical support for its student body, but it also offers challenges. The slow-paced nature of bureaucracy is often in contention with the time-sensitive schedule of a university student.

Organizations and institutions have increasingly offered expanded services, resulting in bureaucratic sprawl (Tahir, 2020). A Stats Canada analysis found that for every dollar spent on instruction in universities, roughly 20 cents is directed to cover administrative costs. In 1994, this ratio was 12 cents per dollar (Smith, 2010). Additional income for Canadian universities increasingly goes to expanding bureaucratic processes, not maintaining the institution’s quality. This is occurring even as post-secondary students face a debt crisis, in large part because of tuition increases deemed necessary for ‘quality maintenance.’ Ryerson’s bloated bureaucracy wastes money that otherwise could have been spent on teaching and reducing tuition costs. As a student who has occasionally struggled to meet my tuition, I find this particularly vexing.

Whereas bureaucratic control refers to a system of organization characterized by behavioral control mechanisms (i.e., bureaucracy), ideological control focuses on the organizational members’ sense of self (Mumby & Kuhn, 2019, ch. 1). Ideological control focuses on cultivating a set of feelings among the membership that will emotionally connect them to the organization and each other.

Like other academic institutions, Ryerson attempts to cultivate numerous shared feelings among its student body and faculty. Community, inclusion, diversity, and self-improvement are all values perpetuated through Ryerson’s stakeholder communication. Self-improvement is the most salient example; the institution’s ‘anchor’ is that it offers a more practical, hands-on university experience that provides students a competitive advantage over their peers. This messaging is evidenced by Ryerson’s website, where the first line of the ‘about’ page reads: “Ryerson University is at the intersection of mind and action” (Ryerson University, 2020).

In today’s post-Fordist organization, emphasizing self-improvement as an organizational cornerstone is a particularly effective way of enacting ideological control. Increasingly, individuals tie their intrinsic value to their economic worth. This is a result of the blurring of work and personal boundaries, a cornerstone of the post-Fordist era of organization (Mumby & Kuhn, 2019, ch. 6). A university education offers significant opportunities for self-improvement, which boosts individual intrinsic value and institutional loyalty.

Ryerson’s culture (i.e., its values and traditions) reflects the institution’s relatively successful enactment of ideological control over the student body and faculty. This is not necessarily bad; I love attending Ryerson because of the values the institution has chosen to perpetuate (i.e., diversity, inclusion, hands-on academia etc.). The student body and faculty have broadly accepted these values, creating a relatively harmonious campus setting. That being said, ideological control never guarantees a certain set of predictable behaviors. For example, Ryerson highly emphasizes inclusivity and diversity; the student body generally accepts these values, with one broad exception: diversity of opinion. Numerous times throughout my three years at Ryerson, I have witnessed individuals with more conservative-leaning attitudes be subjected to exclusion. This demonstrates that although ideological control can undoubtedly impact a population, there can be no accounting for human agency at times.

Bureaucratic and ideological control processes structure my life as a student at Ryerson University. This structure dictates how I operate my day to day, both in an organizational sense and a cultural sense, and provides me the opportunity to make sense of my rapidly changing world. Bureaucratic and ideological control processes are neither benign nor malevolent inherently; rather, it’s the application of the methods that determines such a thing. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at Ryerson so far, with my only complaints being occasional student censorship and the overbearing nature of the institution’s bureaucratic control.

Sustainable Mining Practices

The contemporary importance of the mining industry in today’s transitioning economy cannot be understated. Economic decarbonization will require the mass adoption of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. Both of these energy sources are intermittent, meaning their electricity production is unreliable and requires battery assistance. Transitioning global economies to renewable technologies and battery systems will significantly increase the demand for minerals, ensuring growth in the mining industry’s contribution to the world marketplace. As the importance of mineral extraction rises, industry practices must evolve to reflect the changing values of increasingly conscientious consumers.

Respecting Local Communities

Mining practices commonly rely on destructive extraction processes that harm local communities nearby the operation. Such methods perpetuate resource colonization in the modern era, often taking advantage of communities with weak economic or political power.

Addressing communities’ local culture, values, and traditions through open dialogue is essential to responsible mining practices, as local residents harbor invaluable regional information and are more willing to share when they feel they’re knowledge is being valued. Indigenous groups in remote areas specifically possess a cornucopia of expertise that should be tapped into if possible. Incorporating local knowledge into a company-wide action plan acknowledges the value of regional experts. Mining projects are often controversial within the impacted communities, so companies should act as good corporate neighbors to reduce community fears.

The complexity and scale of mining projects produces a broad and diverse range of stakeholder groups, including local communities and businesses, governments, suppliers, and shareholders. Resource extraction companies should prioritize consultations with each of these groups, in addition to providing adequate resources for additional questions that may arise. Chief among these questions are security concerns. Developing and publicizing a robust plan to mitigate potential environmental disasters will demonstrate a commitment to stakeholder groups’ safety and protection. Monitoring systems should also be made public, in addition to being collaborative. Integrating local communities into mining projects nurtures the relationship between an organization and community and can be beneficial to a company’s long-term success. 

Social Acceptability

Social acceptability is the public’s contentment level with a regional operation. The scope of direct or indirect benefits a community derives from a project dramatically impacts contentment levels. Communities who feel taken advantage of, forgotten, lied to, or ignored by companies appropriating their resources are more likely to (rightfully) challenge a business’s prosperity. Often, a problematic relationship with stakeholders results in lengthy court challenges, protests, or vandalism, delaying the project’s timeline, creating bad press, and costing significant financial resources.

Of course, avoiding sour stakeholder relations doesn’t have to be difficult. Once again, it’s about being a good corporate neighbor, which benefits all parties involved in a project. Local hiring and sourcing are two ways of respecting and rewarding local talent. If a community lacks the skilled workforce needed to integrate into a project, investments should be made on behalf of the mining company into education and skills training. Improving the standard of living for local communities through investments helps to equalize the negative externalities caused by mining.

At the very least, mining companies should uphold human rights and meet jurisdictional regulations. Ideally, companies should take it upon themselves to foster safe work environments when regulatory systems fail to provide adequate worker protections. Companies should also contribute to social development in the form of taxes and resource royalties.

Sustainability

The environmental impact of mining activities can be devastating on both local ecosystems and populations unless sustainable practices are followed. Trends in economic behavior indicate that sustainability is a rising factor in consumer purchases; simultaneously, a growing number of mining companies are beginning to account for their environmental impact.

Responsible mining requires planning for all stages of a project life cycle, including after decommissioning. Putting forward a plan to repurpose an operation after its lifecycle is an excellent way of reducing the project’s overall environmental impact, in addition to providing economic opportunities to the local population.

Mining is one of the most energy-intensive industries. As such, energy-efficient mining infrastructure offers significant opportunities for cost savings. This also reduces the project’s overall resource consumption, lessening the impact on the local environment. Residuals from mining processes, such as effluent discharge and tailing seepage, must also be accounted for in a responsible manner. Otherwise, these residuals pose a serious contamination threat to the local water supply, which could have devastating consequences for those reliant on it. Recycling water during mining processes also offers a way of both addressing costs and sustainability. It helps protect the availability of the local water supply while simultaneously reducing industrial energy usage.

The process of mineral extraction destroys natural biodiversity, making investments in community or indigenous-led conservation and restoration programs crucial to the success of a sustainable operation. The assimilative capacity of a regional environment (an ecosystems’ ability to take in toxins and render them neutral) requires replenishment if depleted. Restoration programs help recover the natural damage incurred by mining while providing additional jobs.

Acting as an upstanding corporate neighbor for local communities can make project development and management more seamless in the long run while decreasing the risk of unexpected costs. The collaboration and integration of strengths between mining companies and communities produces more efficient, sustainable, and equitable practices, elevating the quality of life for those involved.

Underwhelming Renewable Energy Investments by Trudeau’s Liberals

After nearly 10 years of the Harper government’s “all-in-approach” on fossil fuel development, the election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals was seen as an exciting opportunity and step forward for the green economy in Canada. Expectations ran high as Trudeau emphasized balancing the economy and environment, with signature promises being made such as the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies.

It’s now the end of the Liberal’s first term, with the last budget before the election (budget 2019), having been recently presented. While there are several new programs aimed at providing support for certain green industries, the latest budget still demonstrates a pattern of underwhelming funding for renewable energy, clean tech and green industry incentives in Canada.

The 2019 budget tables some good ideas, such as a $5000 rebate on electric vehicles under the price tag of 45,000 dollars, new funding for electric charging stations, and a whopping 1.01 billion dollars to help the Federation of Canadian municipalities retrofit community and residential buildings for energy efficiency. Unfortunately, much of the funding for these programs is contingent on the re-election of the Liberals, which is becoming seemingly less likely everyday.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Federal Green Party, weighed in on the budget’s green industry and climate change measures, saying it’s attempts to spur action on climate change are “pathetic.” To stress her point, May compared the federal government’s investments for green industry incentives with the purchase of the rights to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX). The Liberals invested 4.5 billion dollars into a single pipeline expansion. To contrast, the latest budget tables a combined total of 1.4 billion dollars over 5 years for green industry incentives. The entirety of the budget that goes towards green programs accounts for a mere 31% of what was paid for the TMX. This highlights that the Liberal’s messaging and action when it comes to the environment is highly contradictory.

The spending pattern of the Liberals show that while the government understands the need for green investments, there’s still a deeply rooted belief that fossil fuel projects must continue to be developed. In comparison with the prior conservative government, there has been significant progress on the front of supporting green industries. However, the progress that’s been made simply isn’t as profound as the governing Liberal’s like to present.

Analyzing the progress green industries, like solar and wind, have made under Trudeau, is best done by looking at Canada’s progress on its climate change goals. Whereas the Liberal’s often brag about having achieving a balanced economy and environment, the statistics of Canada’s emission reductions paint a different story, one which demonstrates a substantial lack of strength in Canadian green industry.

As recently as January 2019, the Liberal’s own estimates showed a growing climate gap (how much Canada is projected to miss its emission reduction targets by). The latest projection is that Canada will miss its target by roughly 78 megatonnes of carbon, even as Canada’s largest Province has successfully phased out coal power over the last decade.

Ontario’s phasing out of coal power offered tremendous potential growth in renewable energy. Unfortunately, the potential has not been realized, as a pattern of under-investments in green industry, and substantial developments in the oil and gas sector have continued. A significant amount of the progress Canada has made towards fighting climate change has actually been undone by further developments from both provincial and federal governments in oil and gas. This pattern of under investment in green industries long predates Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, they just haven’t improved the situation by a significant measure.

The Liberal’s failure to properly invest in a clean economy has also allowed a substantial cool off in private investments to occur. Many provincial and federal subsidies and programs, such as Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program, were wound down between 2010 and 2015. The lack of new federal investment since has, as Amy Grace, head of research at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, puts it, led to a “total destruction of the market.”

Since 2015, private investment in clean technologies has fallen by half. Certain external factors, such as China’s slowing demand for renewable energy, have contributed to this. Trudeau’s Liberal’s however, have consistently failed to address the lack of investment through green incentive programs in their budgets, with their latest following suit. If anything, the trend of decreasing private investments should have served as an indicator that the federal government needed to ramp up it’s spending on green programs. Had the Liberal’s placed a higher priority on stimulating green industry, significantly greater progress towards developing a green economy could have been achieved over the past four years.

Trudeau’s first term has seen mixed results when it comes to developing green industry in Canada. With a significant lack of funding for clean tech incentives, further investments and subsidies in the fossil fuel industry, and an ever-growing climate gap, it’s clear that Trudeau has postured his Liberal Party to appear significantly greener than it actually is. The question remains whether or not voters will see past the smoke in the upcoming federal election.

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Should Ontario Pursue Virtual Net Metering?

Virtual net metering is a program which, if implemented, would supplement Ontario’s already developed net metering policy. To realize the potential of virtual net metering, understanding the basics of regular net metering is important.  

Net metering is a credit system for homeowners producing their own renewable energy. While multiple forms of renewable energy qualify for net metering, this explanation will center around solar energy. Net metering balances out peak electricity production hours with off-peak hours by creating a “give and take” relationship between households and electrical grids. For example, in the afternoon, a homeowner’s electricity generation may exceed the household’s electricity consumption. Since there is an excess of electricity, it is fed into the municipal electrical grid. The homeowner is then provided with energy credits, which go towards covering future electricity costs. The value of the credits depends on the quantity of excess electricity fed into the grid. In Ontario, energy credits carry over for 12 months, at which point they are reset to 0.

In the evening, however, a homeowner’s electricity consumption may rise above production. When this occurs, previously earned credits are applied to cover the difference. The net metering system will keep track of the balance of credits. At the end of the month, homeowners will either receive a credit (able to be carried into the next month) or a bill to pay, based on the difference between their electricity production and consumption. The ability of net metering to both feed excess electricity into an electrical grid, and pull supplementary electricity out depending on a household’s demand means there isn’t any disruption to a household’s electricity usage. Plus, by using a credit system, net metering ensures that all produced electricity is fairly compensated for.

Ontario’s net metering program has been a critical tool in growing residential solar production, as it has vastly expanded the accessibility of the technology. Without net metering, storage for the produced electricity would need to be built alongside the solar panels, otherwise, a household could experience erratic blackouts. This would vastly increase costs, which would disincentivize individuals from pursuing solar energy.

While net metering has been an important addition to energy policy in Ontario, there are still plenty of opportunities for further improvement. The primary issue with net metering is that not every homeowner has the capacity for a solar installation. This tends to leave out lower-income residents who would benefit the greatest from the reduced electricity bills. Some homeowners are also left out due to poor property orientation, which restricts accessible sunlight. If potential panel locations don’t receive adequate sunlight, the purchase of a solar installation simply isn’t economical.

The core difference between net metering and virtual net metering is the location where the electricity is being generated. Regular net metering only works for individuals who can place the solar installation on their own property. Virtual net metering differs by allowing homeowners to buy solar energy which is produced externally. This allows those without the means of generating solar energy to reap the many benefits of it.

One of the greatest strengths of virtual net metering is its ability to take on multiple different business models. The private sector can set up solar installations and lease the energy to consumers on its own, or it may seek government partnerships to increase efficiency, reduce costs and speed up project construction time. Partnerships can be especially helpful when it comes to finding the most economical location for a virtual net metering installation. Analyzing possible installation locations for factors such as the quantity of sunlight, land value and community emotion can help ensure a location is chosen which is fair to the taxpayer and favorable to the community. Virtual net metering is also a relatively cheap option for the government to promote solar energy, as the various ownership models attract private business and investment.

Virtual net metering is already mainstream across many parts of the United States. Unfortunately, Ontario has recently regressed on this matter, as the Province canceled its virtual net metering pilot projects in October of 2018. If Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government was serious about lowering Ontarian’s electricity costs, these pilot project cancellations would be reversed immediately. Virtual net metering provides consumers an environmentally friendly and cost-saving way of purchasing electricity. This in turn, can further galvanize support for renewable energy. Ontario should continue these projects, with an emphasis on testing out a multitude of different ownership models. These pilot projects are critical, as they help to determine Ontario-specific problems and solutions with virtual net metering. Otherwise, Ontario should adopt virtual net metering “best practices,” which have largely been developed in energy innovation hubs across North America, namely New York and California. In its established locations, virtual net metering has been highly successful at its intended purpose.

Virtual net metering offers great potential to further improve access to renewable energy for Ontarians. To move this policy forward, Ontario should reverse the pilot project cancellations, as well as develop clear regulations that build onto the existing net metering framework (reg. 541/05). By providing homeowners of all income brackets the opportunity to reduce their bills and carbon footprint, virtual net metering represents a forward-thinking solution on how to increase affordability and accessibility of electricity, while simultaneously fighting climate change.

Should Ontario Pursue Third-Party Ownership for Solar Modules?

Between Kathleen Wynne and Doug Ford, Ontario has now experienced two government’s vastly different approaches on how to handle the rapidly growing solar industry. The former Liberal government introduced the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) and Micro-FIT program, which offered highly subsidized rates for homeowners who bought residential solar panels. In contrast, the current Progressive Conservative government has argued for less government intervention in the industry, eliminating subsidies, contracts, incentives and a host of other measures aimed at boosting solar energy production. This back and forth has created a rather unpredictable market for Ontario solar energy. However, the choice doesn’t have to be between expensive and bureaucratic policies or the abandonment of government support altogether. Rather, Ontario’s government should look South to the United States to learn how implementing market-friendly, consumer-oriented policy can benefit both the solar industry and Ontario’s residents.

Consumers who want to switch to solar energy are often driven to do so by the social benefits of the technology. Unfortunately, the upfront capital cost of buying solar panels can be too burdensome for many Ontarians. While subsidies can help offset the initial price of the technology, and tax credits (among other incentives) can soften the blow to a family’s wallet, this still leaves consumers responsible for self-financing their solar installation. Even the overly generous FIT and Micro-FIT programs still required self-financing. For Ontario to achieve a greater capacity of solar energy in its electrical grid, the barrier of upfront capital must be overcome.

Enter third-party ownership, a market-friendly system which eliminates the need for consumers to self-finance solar modules. This system is already in place in certain regions throughout the United States and has a relatively simple premise. A private solar company installs panels on a residential property, encompassing all of the installation fees. The solar company will continue to own and operate the equipment, essentially using the residential property as a host lot. The company charges a fixed rate for the monthly electricity produced on the lot, keeping the rate below that of the local utility distribution company (LDC). This ensures the consumer is saving money on their electrical bills, while simultaneously promising a long-term captive market for the business undertaking the job. This kind of payment plan between the homeowner and the solar company is typically known as either a solar lease or a purchase power agreement plan (PPA). Electricity which is generated and exceeds the homeowner’s consumption is fed into Ontario’s electrical grid, with the homeowner receiving energy credits which carry over into the next year, and go towards covering energy costs.

Third-party ownership allows consumers more freedom when it comes to their electricity demands. The monopolistic nature of LDCs results in high costs for consumers, even as the government continues to set price restrictions. Enabling homeowners to choose between different options for powering their homes will have a positive impact on electrical bills. The greater the diversity in the market, the better the price for consumers. This could even lead to utility companies reducing or freezing their rates, as to compete with solar companies undercutting them. At a time where one-quarter of Canadians are struggling to pay their monthly bills, implementing consumer-oriented policy is especially important. Currently, the potential for third-party ownership in Ontario is being squandered due to a lack of specification in policy. The regulation regarding net metering (reg. 541/05) doesn’t indicate or establish any guidelines for third-party ownership business models. This makes it difficult for investors to support companies promising to deliver third-party ownership, as there is a great deal of uncertainty involved.

The main consumer benefit of third-party ownership would be its ability to enable homeowners that fall within varying income brackets to access solar energy. By allowing for more choice in the electricity market, third-party ownership can lower bills, all while providing the social benefits solar energy is known for. There is also built-in consumer protection with third-party ownership, as the homeowner is not responsible for maintaining the equipment. By keeping the solar module under the ownership of the solar company, the risks associated with hardware failings is transferred onto the supplier. This allows for a convergence of interests from both the supplier and the customer, providing both parties with greater confidence.

Third-party ownership represents a major opportunity for Ontario to help remove barriers preventing homeowners from utilizing renewable energy. It’s a cheap, easily implemented and market-friendly policy which should be taken advantage of by the current Progressive Conservative government.

How Can Municipalities Mitigate Climate Change?

When discussing strategies to mitigate climate change, responsibility tends to fall entirely on provincial and federal governments. Municipalities are often excluded from the conversation, which is unfortunate, as they play an important role in developing environmental public policy.  All levels of government must be included in climate mitigation discussions if Canada is to reach the aggressive, time-sensitive emission reduction goals needed to maintain a healthy climate. Discussing the policy tools available to municipalities will help Canadians identify the importance of local government. In doing so, Canada’s democracy can be strengthened through the mobilization of voters in municipal elections, which will be necessary to facilitate rapid change.

Under the Canadian constitution, municipalities bear no direct power. Instead, they rely on lobbying efforts directed towards their provincial government. Cities are given autonomy to create bylaws; however, provincial legislation can overrule them. This is not to say municipalities are powerless though. Typically, provinces leave local affairs to municipal governments, meaning clashes seldom occur. Even though power exists within the municipal government, it is often overlooked on headline-grabbing issues, such as climate change. The scale of this issue in particular has likely contributed to the disconnect of what voters think municipalities can do, and reality. The notion of “thinking globally, acting locally” has merit to it, yet the inability of individuals to recognize the importance of being a part of a collective still poses a challenge. The frequent repetition of the message has also diminished the meaning, reducing it to little more than an eco-friendly platitude. Increasing awareness of municipal responsibilities related to environmental preservation is key to encouraging disillusioned voters, particularly young people, to participate in their local democracy.

One of the most effective ways municipalities have been able to reduce emissions is through the use of stringent energy efficiency standards. Updating building codes to require new residential, commercial, and industrial units to use less energy is critical towards reducing a city’s carbon footprint. These policies should also be introduced alongside retrofit incentive programs, allowing for older, more wasteful buildings to reduce their energy usage. Energy efficiency standards are a particularly easy policy to implement, as they offer significant social, economic, and environmental benefits. They help mitigate climate change as well as reduce energy bills for residents and businesses.

Municipalities also have a great deal of control in planning their land usage. Under Ontario’s Planning Act, cities are responsible for submitting land use planning regulations to the province for approval. Regulating how land within municipal boundaries is used provides a myriad of options for local politicians to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. Urban sprawl has spread like a plague throughout much of North America, and as a result, carbon sequestration is far lower than is necessary. This unregulated, poorly planned growth has led to the culling of much of the world’s forests. The protection and expansion of urban and suburban carbon sinks are well within the municipal mandate, and represent an extremely cost-effective mitigation strategy.

 For this reason, many countries, including China, Pakistan, Ireland, and Japan, have undergone massive reforestation campaigns. Weaving green space (both shielded from and welcomed to human activity) throughout cityscapes, and generally improving vegetation cover in urban settings can rapidly develop a municipality’s ability to weather the impacts of climate change. During floods and storms, vegetation helps prevent erosion and soaks up vast quantities of water. The “heat island effect” so often experienced in downtown areas in the summer can also be reduced through the greening of the city. This is especially important in the context of vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or homeless, which are particularly likely to suffer injury or death during heatwaves. The World Health Organization (WHO) also writes that “green spaces are important to mental health. Having access to green spaces can reduce health inequalities, improve well-being, and aid in the treatment of mental illness. Moving forward, it is critical that municipalities plan the future of land use with both climate mitigation and adaptation in mind. Otherwise, the quality of life within city spaces is likely to deteriorate as the climate does.

Transportation is another policy area where municipalities have significant opportunity to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, the design of cities has been purposefully oriented to favour personal vehicles, rather than collectivized transit. Cities should be built with public transportation in mind as a critical source of mobility, to allow citizens to take advantage of more environmentally friendly transit options. Further investments (on behalf of the Province) combined with the reduction and eventual elimination of municipal transit fees will encourage growth in collectivized transit usage. Increasing the availability of bike lanes is also vital in promoting alternative transportation methods. Not only does biking promote active living and a low carbon lifestyle, but it’s also free! Currently, many cities have entire neighborhoods devoid of bike lanes. Asking individuals to bike without proper space is negligent on behalf of the municipality, and has led to countless preventable deaths. The introduction of no-car zones, which are usually oriented around physical marketplaces, should also be explored as a way of moving cities into the 21st century. These spaces increase local economic activity, improve air quality, and provide a temporary retreat from cognitive overload, often brought about by excessive noise pollution.

It’s more important now than ever before that millennial and generation Z voters understand the functions and tasks of local government. Mobilizing environmentally conscious voters is needed in all levels of Canada’s democracy if environmental degradation is to be reversed. Change starts from the bottom up, and municipal governments are uniquely positioned to be facilitators in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

How the Popularization of Television Impacted the Development of North American Politics

Contemporary North American politics can be characterized by a level of polarization, hostility, and superficiality not previously experienced. No single variable can be attributed to the current state of politics. That being said, the popularization of television, which occurred by the 1950s, significantly impacted political methodology. By analyzing television’s programming and stylistic tendencies from the 1950s to present day, we can see that by reducing the quality of political discourse, normalizing dangerous subcultures, and shifting the focus of a politician from policy to personality, the popularization of television has heavily impacted the development of North American politics.

Television programming has developed into a major source of news media, educational content, and entertainment. The technology has demonstrated itself to be a massively successful, diverse medium, easily capable of holding an audience’s attention. The rapid permeation of the television into middle-class lifestyles across North America set the stage for the technology to have sweeping social, economic, and political consequences. The overwhelmingly dominant use of television is for entertainment purposes. This is evident when comparing the number of entertainment and non-entertainment channels, and when looking at how aspects of entertainment broadcasting have seeped into other genres. Television’s relentless pursuit of “dramatic highlights” in non-entertainment programming, such as the news, is a salient example of this. This focus on “highlights” is a direct result of television channels competing for viewership. According to a journal article published in Sage Journals, “competitive pressure emerges as a major factor promoting sensationalism” (Vettehen & Kleemans, 2017).  When television broadcasts news stories, particularly negative stories, there is often an element of dramatization, as to elevate the emotions experienced by the audience. This is manipulative on behalf of broadcasters and degrades the accuracy and trust of news journalism as a societal institution. The sheer number of broadcasting channels seeking viewership is also a challenge because only the “best” or “most engaging” information or highlights are shown at all. This has particularly troubling ramifications for political stories aired on television, where the depth of thought and nuance of ideas is incredibly important.

Politics is naturally newsworthy and loaded with nuance, which is why short highlight clips fail to break down political content accurately. Even though highlight clips leave out vital information, television broadcasters have not shied away from using them in politics. This has led to the creation of “sound bites” and “talking heads,” in which politicians offer short, catchy phrases to exemplify their main policy points. Unfortunately, the average talking head is only 9.8 seconds long, significantly less time than is needed to adequately cover the topic at hand (Sailor, 2011). For example, Andrew Scheer and Doug Ford, leaders of the Federal Conservative Party and Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, have consistently used the phrase “job-killing carbon tax” when discussing carbon pricing. This sound bite is short, showcases the current conservative position on the issue without getting into details, and evokes the audience’s emotions.

In contrast, the Liberal Party’s climate change sound bite, frequently used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is “we’re putting a price on pollution.” This sound bite conveys a positive-sounding message, but once again excludes the details of the policy. Ideally, any issue that makes its way to televised political debate should be represented with the proper level of depth and analysis. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to occur, as television’s emphasis on producing quick and dramatic content has degraded North American attention spans. Countless studies, including a recent one published by the Globe and Mail, show that there exists a link between the use of media, such as television, and shortened attention spans (Ubelacker, 2018). Television caters to short attention spans, as it is a space biased media, conveying information to large amounts of people through short exposure times. The decline of North American attention spans has further incentivized television producers to continue using short, superficial clips. Essentially, television has created an audience feedback loop. It should be noted that the issues associated with television broadcasting and politics are not the fault of the politician, but merely an issue of how characteristic traits of entertainment broadcasting have intruded and damaged the structure of television’s non-entertainment programming.

Television’s focus on providing the most exciting, discussion-worthy news has led to an increased normalization of radical subcultures in a political context. Individuals who hold extreme opinions and beliefs will always exist; however, television must be careful not to amplify the reach of extremist messaging. Occasionally, the media has acted as a catalyst for emboldening radical social groups. While the media cannot tell the public what to think, they most certainly can tell the public what to think about. An example of this has been the resurgence of white nationalism and supremacy throughout the last decade, where “television journalists inadvertently helped catalyze the rapid rise of the alt-right, turning it into a story before it was necessarily newsworthy” (Katz, 2018). The issue lies with exposure, where fringe opinions, such as those held by white nationalists, are dissected and broadcast to millions of viewers. Although the views remain fringe, members of the audience who identify with the described ideology often feel emboldened by seeing it discussed on mainstream television.

Faith Goldy, a controversial, far-right activist who has been denounced for her racist and Islamophobic rhetoric, was elevated by Canada’s media when she announced her bid for Mayor of Toronto. The press fawned over her tweets and publicity stunts, and frequently discussed her political platform, legitimizing it all while knowing she stood no chance of being elected Mayor of Toronto. In the end, she garnered three percent of the popular vote, significantly more than any of the other non-mainstream candidates (Toronto Election Results, 2018). Her media exposure was what likely allowed her to land in a comfortable 3rd place finish. Reporting on extremist candidates and subcultures must be done extremely cautiously, as to avoid injecting further volatility into North America’s political sphere.

Television is primarily a visual media source, and as such, places greater importance on visual as opposed to auditory messaging. For the political sphere, this has resulted in greater superficiality, with an increased emphasis on a politician’s appearance, rather than their political beliefs. The 1960 U.S. Presidential debate, for example, pit John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon. Subsequently, the medium in which the audience chose to tune in to the debate impacted the audience’s perception of the candidates.Those who listened on the radio primarily credited Nixon for his strong performance, whereas television viewers perceived John F. Kennedy as the winner (Botelho, 2016). While Nixon was viewed to have articulated his policy slightly more successfully, he looked pale, sickly, and ill-equipped next to a radiant John F. Kennedy. Developing a politician’s image has become just as important as developing their policy, evident by current political spending on television ads, which is at its highest peak in history (Butts, 2018).

The negativity and superficiality of politicized television has contributed significantly to the degradation of faith in North American politics. Unfortunately, this degradation of faith is likely to continue, as the media more frequently reports negative stories, incentivizing politicians to be cynical. Part of the negativity of politicized television also stems from the medium’s affordances. Television (much like other new media) has an artificial memory, and therefore negative, past events exist permanently. In politics, this has created never ending scandals, such as Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. This has also helped generate a broader lack of trust in politicians and civil servants. The lack of trust towards the political sphere has catalyzed the rise of populism and anti-intellectualism. These two trends in politics are more common when there exists a destabilizing crisis, as crises further undermine the credibility of the political sphere. Unfortunately, the current political landscape is very much dominated by crises, with climate change, mass migration, and economic inequality creating the perfect breeding ground for such political trends (Rooduijn, 2018).

As a technology, television encompasses the theory of technological determinism, as its influence on politics has been an unintentional consequence of its creation. Analyzing the profound impacts television catalyzed in North America reveals both positive and negative outcomes. Over the last 70 years, television has significantly improved information dissemination and entertainment options. Unfortunately, this has come at the expense of the political culture of North America, which now suffers from chronic superficiality.

References

Botelho, G. (2016, March 14). The day politics and TV changed forever. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/29/politics/jfk-nixon-debate/index.html

Butts, T. (2018, November 08). Political Ad Spending Hits Historic Highs in 2018 Campaign. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.tvtechnology.com/news/political-ad-spending-hits-historic-highs-in-2018-campaign

Chin, J. (2018, December 11). 80% Of Oil Sector Emissions Will Be Exempt From Feds’ Carbon Pricing: Report. Retrieved March 27, 2019, from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2018/12/10/canada-oil-sector-climate-plan_a_23614398/

Gripp, A. (2015, September 23). Is Television Ruining Our Political Discourse? Retrieved March 29, 2019, from https://ivn.us/2015/09/23/is-television-ruining-our-political-discourse/

Katz, M. (2018, May 25). How the Media Helped Legitimize Extremism. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.wired.com/story/study-media-and-extremism/

Raghunathan, R. (2012, January 17). Familiarity Breeds Enjoyment. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/sapient-nature/201201/familiarity-breeds-enjoyment

Rooduijn, M. (2018, November 20). Why is populism suddenly all the rage? Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/political-science/2018/nov/20/why-is-populism-suddenly-so-sexy-the-reasons-are-many

Sailor, M. (2011, March 11). How did the advent of television impact politics? Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/tv-and-culture/advent-of-television-impact-politics2.htm

Staff. (2018, October 23). Toronto election results 2018. Retrieved March 27, 2019, from https://globalnews.ca/news/4582296/toronto-election-results-2018/

Ubelacker, S. (2018, April 30). Study: Too much TV, games for kids=shorter attention span. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/study-too-much-tv-games-for-kids-shorter-attention-span/article560503/

Vettehen, P. H., & Kleemans, M. (2017). Proving the Obvious? What Sensationalism Contributes to the Time Spent on News Video. Electronic News, 12(2), 113-127. doi:10.1177/1931243117739947

Agriculture and Solar Energy: A Symbiotic Relationship

solar panels sit in a field next to growing agricultural crops
Solar farming paired with traditional agriculture

For many young Canadians, career prospects are bleak, with little hope for change. Economic anxiety grips the country, even as the governing Liberal party has enjoyed a relatively stable economy throughout their time in office. Currently, there are nearly five post-secondary graduates for every job opening requiring a university or college degree. There just doesn’t seem to be enough opportunity for young people. Even with underwhelming career prospects ahead of them, young people are still resisting an industry that desperately needs them: agriculture. Since 1991, the number of Canadian farms has declined by 24.8%. The average size of farms has slightly increased, but this has still resulted in a significant net loss of agricultural land and workers.

There are many contributing factors as to why youth are unmotivated to join the agricultural sector. Millennials, along with generation Z, increasingly favour urban and well-educated areas. The Canadian demographic has significantly shifted towards urbanization, as rural opportunities have dwindled and urban economic hotspots have boomed. Accessibility to higher education has also played a role in Canada’s changing demographic. The increasing volatility of the agricultural sector, as well as the nature of the work as a trade may also contribute to the lack of younger generational interest. Primary industries are naturally more volatile; however, climate change is pushing agricultural uncertainty to new heights.

The future implications for agriculture look grim. Planting dates, which have historically been fairly concrete, are no longer predictable. Erratic seasonal weather and storms also create additional uncertainty to an industry which relies heavily on routine. Even as early as 2002, climate change-induced heat waves killed as many as 200,000 poultry birds in Quebec. The future of agriculture will also face the issues of land degradation, desertification and water shortages as a result of climate change.

The irony of this situation is that for decades, Canadian farmers, in conjunction with the agricultural industry, have typically fought against environmental groups. As governments became more concerned about environmental issues, namely conservation, soil fertility, pesticide, herbicide, and insecticide use, farmers, backed by industry, fiercely resisted regulation. One of the primary tensions between environmental groups and farmers has been the destruction of forestry for agricultural development.

Canada’s forests act as highly efficient carbon sinks. However, urban sprawl, combined with an increasing global demand for agricultural products has led to mass deforestation. The loss of natural carbon sequestration has produced a detrimental impact on the world’s ability to regulate atmospheric carbon levels, accelerating the pace of climate change. In the long run, this is far worse for farmers than any environmental regulation.

Historically, farmers and the agricultural industry have had a tumultuous relationship with environmental groups. However, new green opportunities for farmers have helped to establish a less political industry environment. As volatility in agriculture grows, farmers are increasingly switching small, less fertile segments of their acreage from traditional crops to solar farms. One of the most attractive reasons for farmers to utilize solar energy is that it offers the potential for farms to cover the cost of their own electricity use. Depending on the acreage of solar panels installed, some farmers are also able to sell off excess energy. Farming solar energy averages larger returns than typical agricultural yields, while offering a more stable income.

Farming solar energy is undoubtedly good for farmer’s bottom lines. However, there’s still strong industry opposition. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) states that “large scale solar on good farmland is not suited to Ontario,” citing soil erosion, baking, and decrease in agricultural capacity. It’s important to note that Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has a classification system which prohibits solar installations on fertile soil. The classification system is numbered 1-7, with numbers 1, 2 and 3 corresponding to prime agricultural land, and 4, 5, 6 and 7 meaning the land has “limitations that may restrict its agricultural capability.” The Ministry regulations mean that solar installations can only be applied to land which has a fertility rating between 4 and 7. Regulations regarding farmland and solar installations vary across Canada however.

Unfortunately, analyzing the OFA’s website reveals a clear bias against green energy. The OFA fails to mention the soil standards mandated by Ontario’s agricultural ministry when discussing the potential negatives of solar production on agricultural land. The OFA website also cautions potential buyers that solar panels may reduce the value of a residential or commercial property, due to a decrease in aesthetic. This is in direct conflict with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s reporting, which highlighted that solar panels substantially increased property values. The increase in value is primarily due to the energy independence the panels provide. Electricity bills can be substantially reduced, or even eliminated, making solar installations a smart financial investment for many households.

While Canada’s agricultural industry is dragging their heels on support for solar energy, farmers are increasingly taking it upon themselves to diversify their income and harness the suns’ energy. Solar energy simply makes sense for farmers. The geographic areas throughout Canada which receive the most sun, namely Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, are the prime locations for solar deployment. It’s no coincidence that these provinces are also the largest producers of agricultural products in Canada. Although the climate in these provinces make a strong argument for the utilization of solar energy, these three provinces are also regularly controlled by conservative governments. Many of these governments have been less than supportive, or even hostile towards the development of solar and other renewable energy.

Larger subsidies, tax credits or other incentives for solar energy could vastly improve the opportunities for rural farmers. As the number of farms in Canada continues to dwindle, it’s worth looking at solar energy as a potential industry partner to increase agricultural participation. Solar energy offers a way of making agriculture more lucrative, environmentally friendly, high-tech and independent, factors which may encourage younger individuals to enter the industry.

How Information Technologies are Degrading Liberty

cartoon computer and keyboard floating on a blue background with apps circling the computer
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are now ubiquitous with Western businesses, governments, and consumers

In the last two decades, Canada has undergone a rapid economic transformation embracing technological innovation. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are now ubiquitous with Western businesses, governments, and consumers. This embrace of technology has enabled opportunities for improved efficiency, personalization, and communication in the economy; yet, simultaneously, it has facilitated the growth of new threats. Global unrest has encouraged a shift in the social attitudes of Canadians towards favouring security over privacy policy. Canadian governments have reflected this change through the implementation of authoritarian style surveillance policy utilizing the mass adoption of ICTs. In this paper, I will corroborate Lessig’s claim that the Internet and ICTs are becoming tools of control by analyzing how Canada’s government could use surveillance to restrict civil liberties and regulate disseminated information.

Canada is revered around the globe for its social fabric, as Canadian culture places an extremely high importance on civil liberties. As a result, Canada is consistently a shining beacon of democracy. Any Canadian citizen can run for election, and transfers of power have continuously occurred without violence, uprising, or social upheaval. Unfortunately, “fast developing technologies combined with new governmental and commercial strategies have led to the proliferation of new modes of surveillance,” which has begun to erode many of the freedoms most Canadians take for granted (Lyon, 2010). Even the knowledge that government surveillance is taking place has an adverse impact on social behavior, with “civil libertarians warn[ing] about the chilling effect such monitoring could have on forms of expression” (McDonald, 1986). Government monitoring of ICTs and the subsequent mass collection of data puts free speech, association, and political dissent at risk. Bill C-51, commonly known as the “Anti-Terrorism Act,” was introduced under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. This bill enabled preventative detention of individuals, which is “detention on the suspicion that someone may or will commit a crime at some point in the future” (Ruby, Hasan, 2015). This flips the judicial precedent that individuals must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. This policy erodes civil liberties and undermines the Canadian legal system, which is fundamental to the organization and maintenance of Canadian society. To make matters worse, Bill C-51 creates new offenses for activities which “undermine the security of Canada, including interfering with the economic or financial stability of Canada (Theodorakidis, 2015). This broad definition alienates political advocacy groups (or individuals) opposed to current government projects. Stephen Harper’s former government had close ties to Canada’s fossil fuel industry. Bill C-51 enabled his government to target environmental groups for surveillance purposes, claiming they were in opposition to the “financial interests” of Canada, and therefore undermined national security. The right to speak freely about the government, as well as to politically organize, is essential to maintaining Canada’s democracy. Should surveillance technology continue to be implemented at the current rate, Canada risks losing many of its fundamental freedoms, in lieu of a surveillance state in which citizens self monitor themselves. In this sense, there is a risk of Canadian society mirroring Michel Foucault’s panopticon metaphor, in which individuals act as their own social control mechanism (“Internalized Authority and the Prison of the Mind,” n.d). The overarching issue is that government surveillance has a remarkable lack of transparency, yet forces total transparency onto Canadian citizens. A poll conducted in 2015 by the privacy commissioner’s office indicated that an overwhelming majority, or “nine in 10 Canadians have “some level of concern” about privacy, and it is easy to understand why (“More Canadians concerned about ‘losing control,” 2015). These policies show that the government expects the full trust of its citizens, while entirely failing to reciprocate any.

The enormous mass of data currently being collected by the Canadian government directly threatens the privacy interests of Canadians. Harper’s Bill C-51 enabled government agencies to share data between themselves (Bronskill, 2016). This is problematic since the likelihood of breaches rises as more people gain access to information. In 2018, Ottawa’s privacy watchdog disclosed that many government privacy breaches go unreported altogether (Boutilier, 2018). National security agencies like the Canadian Security Establishment (CSE) or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) having access to endless amounts of data is troubling enough. Once information begins to be shared internally to additional agencies, risks are elevated substantially. Canada is also apart of the Anglophone intelligence group named “Five Eyes,” consisting of Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Essentially, Five Eyes acts as a conglomerate of a surveillance organization. There is a provision in the Five Eyes security agreement stating that member countries cannot spy on the citizens of other member countries; however, this provision does not stop Canada (or any other member country) from offering up information about their own citizens. Much is unknown about the extent to which information is shared between the Five Eyes member countries, as the operation is purposefully and understandably covert. However, in 2013, leaked documents showed that Five Eyes has extensive joint surveillance measures used to collect data abroad (Freeze, 2018). There is the potential that crucial Canadian privacy information is being shared with other countries. Regardless that the Five Eyes are seen as some of Canada’s most significant ally nations, private data provides the means to enact social control, which is why as few individuals should have access to it as possible. Canadians must know the extent to which personal information is being shared with allies. 5Otherwise, Canadian citizens could be easily manipulated by both domestic and foreign governments.

Government monitoring of the Internet and communication channels also allows the government to regulate the information being disseminated. Just recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed onto the Christchurch call, which pledges its signatories to “ensure effective enforcement of applicable laws that prohibit the production or dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist content” (“Online hate is a real threat,” 2019). This agreement was developed following two Mosque shootings in New Zealand. As a part of this agreement, Trudeau pledged to crack down on hate speech as well as misinformation through regulating the Internet, stressing that the lack of regulation of the digital sphere has created an Internet “wild west” (“Online hate is a real threat,” 2019). While the intentions behind this policy appear benign, the actual consequences are very complicated. The notion that the government can crackdown on “misinformation” in particular could be a precursor to state censorship. In a worst-case scenario, this could enable the government to remove any online criticism of its mandate. For example, if the Liberals decided that much of the criticism surrounding their carbon tax constituted “misinformation,” they could remove it. This has significant implications for fundamental freedoms, as the government could take a more direct approach to participating in social control. Another challenge is that individuals would be unknowing of the content removed, which makes holding the government accountable significantly more challenging. Once again, the issue comes back to transparency and accountability. Online censorship is often used in tandem with active manipulation of online channels through the use of pro-government influencers or bots. Russia demonstrated throughout the American Presidential election in 2016 that online government influencers and bots could be enormously effective at swaying public discourse. These bots “are programmed to actively and automatically flood news streams with spam during political crises, elections, and conflicts in order to interrupt the efforts of activists and political dissidents who publicize and organize online” (Woolley, 2016). Through surveillance, governments can tactically deploy bots and influencers to crucial communication channels, having a dramatic impact on social discourse. While the likelihood of the Canadian government doing so is relatively low, this demonstrates how ICTs are giving the Canadian government all of the tools necessary to force rigid social control upon unsuspecting Canadians.

The increase in authoritarian style government surveillance policy has coincided with the liberalization of Canada’s economy, which is an acute irony. The very freedoms championed by the liberal movement are now under threat. The Internet and ICTs are quickly becoming the perfect tools of control for governments, as they provide the means to ward off or deflect threats that democracy could impose on their mandate. If the scope of state surveillance in Canada continues to expand, the Canadian judicial branch will be at risk. Social norms will change to reflect a “guilty until proven innocent” mentality, which promotes governmentality, or the act of self-regulation. Canada is currently on a dangerous trajectory, which is why moving forward, government surveillance policy must be heavily restricted and significantly more transparent to the Canadian public.

References

Bending the Internet: How Governments Control the Flow of Information Online. (2018, June 18). Retrieved from https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/bending-internet-how-governments-control-flow-information-online.

Boutilier, A. (2018, December 23). Federal departments and agencies reported 200 serious privacy breaches in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/2018/12/23/federal-departments-and-agencies-reported-200-serious-privacy-breaches-in-2017.html.

Bronskill, J. (2016, March 25). Federal agencies sharing information under Bill C-51 provisions. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/03/24/federal-agencies-sharing-information-under-bill-c-51-provisions.html.

Freeze, C. (2018, May 11). ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing program threatens Canadians abroad, watchdog warns. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/five-eyes-intelligence-sharing-program-threatens-canadians-abroad-watchdog-warns/article15199925/.

Globe editorial: Online hate is a real threat. But so is government censorship. (2019, May 23). Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/article-online-hate-is-a-real-threat-but-so-is-government-censorship/

Internalized Authority and the Prison of the Mind: Bentham and Foucault’s Panopticon. (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.brown.edu/Departments/Joukowsky_Institute/courses/13things/7121.html

Lyon D. (2010) Surveillance, Power and Everyday Life. In: Kalantzis-Cope P., Gherab-Martín K. (eds) Emerging Digital Spaces in Contemporary Society. Palgrave Macmillan, London

McDonald, F. M. (1986). Technology, privacy, and electronic freedom of speech.

More Canadians concerned about ‘losing control’ over personal info | CBC News. (2015, January 29). Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/cyber-surveillance-worries-most-canadians-privacy-czar-s-poll-1.2934916.

Ruby, C., & Hasan, N. R. (2015). Overly broad and unnecessary anti-terrorism reforms could criminalize free speech. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Theodorakidis, A. (2015, June 27). Bill C-51, Freedom of Assembly and Canadians’ Ability to Protest. Retrieved from https://www.cjfe.org/bill_c_51_freedom_of_assembly_and_canadians_ability_to_protest.

Woolley, S. (2016). Automating power: Social bot interference in global politics. First Monday, 21(4). doi:https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v21i4.6161

Canada Should Abandon the Trans Mountain Expansion

Pipeline protesters in BC demand a stop to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

The Trans Mountain expansion project (TMX) has been at the forefront of contemporary Canadian political debate; dividing the country and escalating disputes between Provinces. The controversy surrounding the project, which was proposed in December 2013, highlights the electorate’s growing emphasis on balancing environmental and economic concerns. Does the TMX achieve this balance? Definitely not.

Primarily, opposition to the TMX is based on the negative effect the project would have on Canada’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Paris Climate Accord, Canada has agreed to reduce the 2005 carbon emission levels by 30% by 2030 (Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, 2019). This equates to bringing Canada’s emissions down to 517 megatonnes, which seems highly unlikely to be accomplished, due to the pace at which emissions are currently being reduced. The Climate Action Tracker, frequently cited by the United Nations, says Canada’s current emission reduction plans are “highly insufficient” towards meeting our targets (Climate Action Tracker, 2019). The TMX is expected to increase greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 13-15 megatonnes annually, meaning Canada would have to significantly strengthen the current climate plan to meet our 2030 targets. However, the elimination of the cap and trade system in Ontario, the Provincial court challenges regarding federally enforced carbon pricing, and the approval of a 40 billion-dollar liquified natural gas project (LNG) in British Columbia, all show signs of regression on climate action. The new LNG project is expected to undermine British Columbia’s attempts to meet the Federal climate goals. Developing new fossil fuel infrastructure, such as the TMX or the LNG project, demonstrates Canada’s lackluster commitment to the Paris climate targets, and to the preservation of the world’s environment. Keep Canada Working, an initiative introduced by the Albertan NDP government, claims the TMX was considered by the National Energy Board (NEB) with the Paris climate targets in mind, and that it will help fund green investments. However, these claims are directly disputed by the David Suzuki Foundation, who commented that they were apart of a “misleading ad campaign” (Suzuki, 2019). A quick look on the NEB’s website regarding the approval of the TMX shows that climate change was not factored into the decision.

Biodiversity in recent years has been collapsing, with scientists using the phrase “biological annihilation” to describe the sixth and current mass extinction (Soltis, 2018). Loss of habitat, climate change, and environmental pollutants are some of the major causes behind the tremendous loss of biodiversity, and the TMX exemplifies all three issues. The construction of the pipeline expansion would add 980 km to the project, crossing more than 500 streams and requiring the clearing of forests along the way (Logan, Scott, MacDuffee, 2018). Each of these streams presents an opportunity for environmental damage as a result of spilled bitumen – a mix of solid or semi-solid tar/asphalt, diluted so it can flow through the pipeline. These streams also cross many municipalities, raising transboundary water concerns, as discussed in the textbook The Canadian Environment in a Political Context (Olive, 2016). The Fraser River, one of the world’s most productive salmon rivers, and a key economic driver for indigenous groups and British Columbia’s fisheries, highlights the threats these rivers face from the expansion project. The high levels of salinity and sediment make it more likely that spilled bitumen would be absorbed into the river bed, causing permanent damage to the ecosystems (Logan et al., 2018). There is also the threat of a spill off the coast of British Columbia, specifically Vancouver waters, where oil tankers load. The completion of the TMX would see an expected seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic, which is particularly threatening to the endangered Southern killer whales, which are already suffering declining birth rates and an inability to find food. (Ghoussoub, 2018). The noise emitted by tanker traffic interferes with the whale pod’s ability to communicate and track prey. This noise is considered one of the primary stressors on the whale’s population (The Canadian Press, 2016). In an attempt to assure Canadian’s that the pipeline expansion is safe for coastal waters, the Federal Liberal government developed the Ocean Protection Plan (OPP). Pro-pipeline advocates will point to the OPP and claim that a compromise can be made between developing fossil fuel infrastructure and protecting biodiversity. The OPP allocates nearly all of its 1.5 billion in funding for disaster response and relief. The rest of the funding exists to provide research grants for “studies on underwater environmental stressors” (Snyder, 2018). However, there are no new regulations or funding aimed at the prevention and risk reduction of oil spills, meaning biodiversity off of British Columbia’s coast is still being put at risk.

The economic benefit of the Trans Mountain expansion has long been touted as the primary reason the Federal, and certain Provincial governments have aggressively pursued the project. Unfortunately, in the Liberal government’s pursuit to rush construction of the project, there has been little attention paid to accurately representing the facts. The Liberals claim that 4.5 billion dollars is a fair price to pay for the project, but forget to mention that the 4.5 billion-dollar price tag only buys them the rights to the project. The full cost of the project is expected to reach between 15-20 billion dollars (Allan et al., 2018). Justin Trudeau and Alberta’s Premier, Rachel Notley, also claim that Canada will lose 15 billion dollars annually if we do not build the project. These figures are based on a report released by Scotia Bank in early 2018; however, nowhere in the report is 15 billion cited as the potential losses of not building the pipeline. Scotia Bank’s report quotes 7 billion dollars in losses, meaning the economic losses of not building the pipeline have been exaggerated by 8 billion dollars. It is also worth mentioning that when Kinder Morgan, the company that the Liberals bought the TMX from, went public in May of 2017, Scotia Bank purchased 224 million dollars in shares. This is a staggering conflict of interest to be left undisclosed in the report (Allan, 2018). There have also been misleading claims surrounding the number of jobs the project will create. Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley are frequently on record touting the “15,000” middle-class jobs the TMX will create. However, they fail to mention that these are temporary jobs, and that the project will only create 90 new permanent jobs: 40 in Alberta, and 50 in British Columbia (Derochie, 2018). While there is no denying the expansion project will create jobs and provide an economic stimulus, it is worth analyzing how efficiently these goals are being accomplished. According to a journal published in Science Direct, per every 1 million dollars invested in fossil fuels, roughly 2.65 permanent jobs are created. This is well below the 7.72 permanent jobs created per 1 million dollars invested in renewable energy (Peltier, 2017).

The Trans Mountain expansion project has been plagued with misinformation, overstated benefits and understated costs since it was announced. It would be a lie to claim that the project will provide Canada with zero benefits; however, the benefits the TMX offers can be achieved more efficiently. A modest proposal is to invest the money set out for the Trans Mountain expansion in stimulating the renewable energy market. This way greater benefits are achieved while protecting the planet’s climate and biodiversity.

References

Allan, R. (2018, March 05). Scotiabank’s oil report a work of fiction. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/robyn-allan-scotiabanks-oil-report-a-work-of-fiction

Allan, R., Allan, Meyer, C., Sharp, A., Meyer, C., Watts, J., . . . Allan, R. (2018, May 29). Kinder Morgan bailout to cost north of $15 billion. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/05/29/analysis/kinder-morgan-bailout-cost-north-15-billion

Allan, R. (2018, May 31). Robyn Allan: Debunking the $15 billion benefit myth around the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://theprovince.com/opinion/op-ed/robyn-allan-debunking-the-15-billion-benefit-myth-around-the-trans-mountain-pipeline-expansion

Alini, E. (2018, April 30). Trans Mountain pipeline: Some of the main arguments for and against it. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://globalnews.ca/news/4149689/trans-mountain-pipeline-arguments-pro-against/

Canada. (2018, November 30). Retrieved March 09, 2000, from https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/canada/

Climate Change Canada. (2019, January 30). Progress towards Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. Retrieved March 09, 2019, from https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/environmental-indicators/progress-towards-canada-greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction-target.html

Derochie, P. (2018, November 06). Deceptive Trans Mountain Pipeline ads leave Alberta taxpayers on the hook for $10 million. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from https://environmentaldefence.ca/2018/10/31/deceptive-trans-mountain-pipeline-ads-leave-alberta-taxpayers-hook-10-million/

Garrett-Peltier, H. (2017). Green versus brown: Comparing the employment impacts of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and fossil fuels using an input-output model. Economic Modelling, 61, 439-447. doi: 10.1016/j.econmod.2016.11.012

Ghoussoub, M. (2018, August 30). How the killer whale became the Achilles heel of Trans Mountain pipeline approval | CBC News. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/how-the-killer-whale-became-the-achilles-heel-of-trans-mountain-pipeline-approval-1.4804932

Kats, G. (2016, December 05). How many jobs does clean energy create? Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-many-jobs-does-clean-energy-create

Logan, K., Scott, D., & MacDuffee, M. (2018, July). Trans Mountain Project. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.raincoast.org/trans-mountain-pipeline/

Olive, A. (2016). The Canadian environment in political context. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ottawa trying to limit impact of tanker traffic noise on endangered whales | CBC News. (2016, December 20). Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/pipelines-whales-british-columbia-study-1.3904435

Soltis, D. (2018). Faculty of 1000 evaluation for Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. F1000 – Post-publication Peer Review of the Biomedical Literature. doi:10.3410/f.727799915.793541653

Snyder, J. (2018, September 25). A closer look at the Oceans Protection Plan, the Liberals’ $1.5B bid to bolster the Trans Mountain pipeline. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://nationalpost.com/news/a-closer-look-at-the-oceans-protection-plan-the-liberals-1-5b-bid-to-bolster-the-trans-mountain-pipeline

Can Changes to US Energy Policy Save the Coal Industry?

Throughout the 2016 Presidential election campaign, Donald Trump emphasized the revival of the coal industry as a major platform pillar. Yet nearly three years after winning the electoral college, the coal industry’s fortunes are still looking grim. Trump frequently speaks of his accomplishment in reviving coal, but the industry has yet to reverse its downward trend. The aggressive deregulation that has followed since 2016 hasn’t provided the support to the industry the Republican party guaranteed. So, is there any chance of restoring the industry, or is the pledge to revive coal yet another facade to American voters with pent up economic anxiety?
The declining production of American coal has long been a trend. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal has been losing market share since 1988. Largely, this can be attributed to creative destruction, a component of capitalism. In a capitalist system, older, less efficient products are replaced with newer versions. There are several factors as to why coal has seen a three-decade-long decline.
The most notable factor has been the rise of alternative energy sources. Natural gas has increased its market share primarily at the expense of coal. The massive boom in shale gas production across the United States has dramatically reduced the price of gas. Subsequently, this has undercut coals primary attribute: its cheapness. In recent years, the booming innovation surrounding the renewable energy sector has also led to a drop in green energy prices. Combine the cheapening of alternative energy with the increasing age of the American coal fleet, and it’s no surprise coal is losing out. The average age of coal plants across the United States is around 40 years old. This is significantly older than most natural gas plants and all major renewable energy installments. As the coal fleet has aged, mechanical breakdowns and other issues associated with operational capabilities have increased. The efficiency of most coal plants is also well below the optimal rate. To remedy this growing problem, repairs would need to be conducted on a massive scale for many of the largest coal plants across the country. There is little economic incentive to pay for these upgrades though, as the industry has been declining for decades, with stock prices dropping significantly. Projections show that production levels are likely to continue to decrease.
The coal industry’s fall from grace has, for a long time, been cushioned by the growing American demand for electricity. In more recent years, however, electricity demand has stagnated. Record warm winters have also had adverse effects on the demand for coal. As one of the most polluting energy sources in the world, coal has contributed significantly to the warming climate, which ironically, is now hurting the industry’s profits.
The coal industry may be unable to return to the height of its glory days, but there are certain policy changes which could help delay the inevitable. The Trump administration, in repealing Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan (CPP), is aiming to do just that. The Obama-era policy required states to meet specific standards on reducing emissions. If they failed to meet the standards, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would step in and impose its own. Requiring states to reduce emissions created a salient target on the coal industry’s back. Repealing the Clean Power Plan has resulted in a lessening of incentives for States to move away from coal. Expanding American coal exports into the Asian energy market could also provide a boost to the industry. While domestic consumption will likely continue to decline (regardless of the CPP repeal), the Asian market is still heavily reliant on coal to meet rising energy demands. Environmental protection in Asian countries is also not as stringent as North America, providing the perfect set of circumstances for coal to be a primary energy source. Finally, additional subsidies and tax exemptions could help encourage expanded production. Though, it’s worth noting the United States already heavily subsidies fossil fuels to the tune of billions of dollars annually.
While policy changes do have the potential to slow the demise of the coal industry, a full revival is seemingly impossible. Implementing all of the necessary changes to keep coal afloat would also prove difficult due to rising public opposition. Loyalty to fossil fuels has waned in recent years, as climate change and healthcare have become more impactful issues for voters. The change in public support has resulted in a growing political will to eliminate coal as an energy source altogether. The evolving public attitude on energy issues does not bode well for coal, regardless of the industry’s attempts to convince the public of the potential for it to be a clean source of fuel. Carbon capture and storage technology is often touted by the industry as an investment that allows both significant coal burning, and meaningful carbon emission reductions. Yet, this technology is largely untested, lacks any distribution plan, and falls squarely into the fallacy of scientific supremacy. Even if the technology has potential, the lack of development into it means that commercialization is far off. Relying on a solution so distant in the future is impractical, and unlikely to sway many American’s minds.
The United States may have a handful of tools left to prolong coals usage; however, doing so would be a mistake. Subsidies, tax exemptions, increased exports and deregulation would only act as short term industry benefits. In the long run, capitalism will naturally eliminate coal as a source of fuel. There is no reason, other than for ideological purposes, to fight the evolution of energy sources. Embracing a forward-thinking attitude on energy policy is critical, as the use of coal is dangerous to both the American population and the world. Unfortunately, the endless stream of donations into Republican coffers on behalf of fossil fuel industry lobbyists is likely to stifle any forward-thinking energy policy in the current administration. Donald Trump and the Republican party can claim that coal has been revived all they want, but the markets will have the last laugh.

Is Alberta’s Solar Market Safe from Jason Kenney?

Since 2015, Alberta’s been the hottest place in Canada to invest in renewable energy. This is evident when looking at the growth projections, which show that since 2015, the green energy industry has exploded with 500% growth. The rapid growth of the industry can largely be credited to Rachel Notley’s NDP, who was swept into power with a majority government back in 2015. Since the election, the NDP has introduced a number of programs aimed at boosting the demand for renewable energy throughout the Province. Energy Efficiency Alberta, an initiative funded by the NDP’s provincial carbon tax, is one of many programs offering Albertans increased opportunities to make the switch to green energy. The primary incentives provided are rebates for residential, commercial and non-profit solar installations.

The NDP’s time in power has certainly bolstered the growth of green industry; however, with a volatile election taking place in a matter of days, it’s uncertain whether or not the NDP will remain in power.

The frontrunner for replacing Notley is Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party. Parallels are often drawn between Jason Kenney and Ontario’s Doug Ford, both of whom are unapologetically conservative, and ideologically driven. For green industry in Alberta, the most troubling similarity between the two leaders is their anti-renewable energy sentiment.

When Doug Ford came into power in 2018, he immediately began unravelling the former government’s progress on developing a strong renewable energy market in Ontario. Ford’s cancellation of 758 long term renewable energy contracts, electric vehicle (EV) rebates, the green energy act, cap and trade as well as vehicle emission standards demonstrated his government’s apathy towards assisting the development of green industry. The implemented cuts resulted in a dramatic weakening of the market, especially for electric vehicles. Soon after the cuts were announced, Tesla sued Ontario’s government and won, forcing Ford’s conservatives to do a U-turn on the scrapping of EV rebates.

Now enters Jason Kenney, a good friend of Ford whose energy platform is eerily similar. Some of Kenney’s main platform points include scrapping of the carbon tax and all carbon tax funded projects, cutting so called “red tape” regulation, and letting renewable energy compete in the market without any subsidies. While Kenney has indicated he intends to follow through with “good faith” renewable energy contracts, there has been no specification towards what constitutes “good faith.” This purposeful lack of a definition leaves the door open for a potential Kenney government to wreak havoc on Alberta’s long-term renewable energy contracts, much as Ford did at the beginning of his term.

Kenney has vowed not to repeat the “mistakes” of Ontario’s government under Kathleen Wynne, which provided renewable energy producers a guaranteed rate far surpassing that of the market. Alberta however, uses an auction system as a way of awarding contracts to renewable energy producers. This has allowed for significant growth in the industry, without being forced to offer absurdly high subsidies as incentives for companies to produce.

By engaging renewable energy producers in a competitive auctioning process that promises low rates, but long-term contracts, Rachel Notley has managed to secure Alberta the lowest rates in Canada for renewable energy. Early in 2019, Notley’s NDP signed a 20-year contract with Canadian Solar Solutions to develop 100 megawatts of power in Southern Alberta. The cost is a mere 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour, even lower than the market rate for natural gas, which (before factoring in the carbon tax) sits at 5.4 cents per kilowatt hour. The total savings for the Albertan government total 3.9 million dollars annually. The importance of these long-term contracts cannot be understated, as they allow for the fostering of a stable market environment, one that’s ripe for investors. The high upfront capital cost of green energy projects has long hindered the ability of renewable energy to compete with fossil fuels. However, Alberta’s bidding process has allowed for renewable energy to demonstrate that it’s the socially, environmentally and economically responsible type of energy to pursue.

Competitive auctioning has allowed Alberta to transform into what Ontario used to be: the renewable energy epicenter of Canada. If Jason Kenney forms government, his unwavering commitment to force renewable energy to compete solely at the market level by eliminating subsidies may end up proving counterproductive. Generous subsidies are what have promoted the rapid fall in costs associated with renewable energy. It’s the significant drop in production costs that have allowed for companies to offer extremely low prices per kilowatt when bidding on long term contracts. Kenney has emphasized that cutting subsidies is another way of restoring fiscal responsibility to Alberta, however, it has the potential to cool down a market which is currently on fire.

Whether or not Jason Kenney wins the upcoming Provincial election on April 16, Alberta will have a bright future in renewable energy. The efforts of Rachel Notley’s government to stimulate green industry and diversify Alberta’s economy have undoubtably paid off. Diversification through renewable energy offers Alberta the unique opportunity of distancing itself from its boom and bust past. Kenney has the potential to slow down the renewable energy market, but as the production costs continue to fall, it’s emerging as the obvious energy choice.

The key policy to watch if Kenney is elected is whether he will respect long term renewable energy contracts. If not, his message of Alberta being “open for business” will be nothing more than a campaign slogan, adding one more parallel between himself and Doug Ford.

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