Monday, March 5, 2018

It's Time to Join the NS PC Party

About a year ago I joined the national Conservative Party of Canada. I can't believe that I did that, given that I would never vote for them in a general election, but I wanted to have a hand in choosing their new leader. Initially I thought that I would vote for the two or three most reprehensible, reptilian candidates (there were lots to choose from), on the grounds that if their leader were a truly awful person there would be no chance that the party could regain power.

But then I realised that in the year of Donald Trump just about anything would be possible, and my strategy could very well backfire and the awful party led by a truly awful person just might win power, and then I would have to share the responsibility. So I changed my strategy and voted instead for the three or four candidates whom I thought seemed to be decent human beings, and who might just be decent Prime Ministers. Of course I was voting for what used to be called Red Tories, back when the Progressive Conservative Party prided itself on being socially progressive and fiscally conservative. That Party died when Peter MacKay and his friends "sold off the Party for parts" (in the words of Michael Ignatieff) and the Conservative Party of Canada (really just the rump of the Reform Party) is still floundering around looking for an electorate (that doesn't exist) in numbers great enough to return a government.

Here in Nova Scotia the Progressive Conservative Party is preparing to choose a new leader in the autumn, and the odds are very good that whoever is chosen will become Premier at the next election (3 years away). The governing Liberals were just barely able to retain their majority in the recent election, and now with the Premier fighting with the teachers and with the doctors I would suggest that they are fast losing the support that they had. The new leader of the PC Party will have to work hard to lose the next election.

So, I have applied to join the Conservative Party, so that I may have a vote in the leadership election. The stakes are high already.

Here's an article about recent comments made by Mr John Lohr, one of the candidates for leader:

Here's some of the text of that article: 

In his statement, Lohr also specifically criticized the premier of P.E.I. for disapproving Northern Pulp’s new proposed effluent treatment facility, and requesting a more comprehensive assessment, to specifically look into the impact a pipeline releasing effluent into the Northumberland Strait will have on Island fisheries.

There currently is a Level 1 environmental assessment planned for this summer.

[Premier] MacLauchlan released a statement on Jan. 23 expressing concern that the proposed pipeline “could have unintended consequences for our commercial fishery and aquaculture industries,” and that the proposed replacement facility “is not a project that our government will support as proposed.”

Lohr criticized MacLauchlan’s stance as one that would “slow the process down further,” in his request for Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to impose a more thorough environmental assessment.

“This political interference would put the entire project in jeopardy, because it would likely push construction of the new facility past the 2020 deadline,” said Lohr. “If the P.E.I. premier is allowed to dictate environmental policy in Nova Scotia, then I call upon Premier McNeil to at least extend his unilateral deadline.”
Lohr indicated that it’s incumbent upon the premier to “assure the thousands of hard-working Nova Scotians in the forestry industry that they will continue to have a job.”
Lohr added, “If no one on the government side is willing to stand up for hard-working Nova Scotians, then I will.”

I certainly have problems with a lot of that statement. For one thing, it reads as if it was written by the public relations officer of Northern Pulp with assistance from the shills at the NS Forest Products Association. For another, the man expresses contempt for any real environmental review process; he has already decided that whatever treatment plan the Mill chooses will be fine with him. And the fact that the Northumberland Strait (the proposed destination for Northern Pulp's effluent) is shared with Prince Edward Island does not seem to let Mr Lohr think that Premier MacLaughlan has a horse in this race.

There's no arguing with a guy like this. He knows who his "base" is, and I am not part of it.

So far, there are four other self-announced candidates; they are not yet official because they have not yet been vetted and accepted by the Party Executive.

However, the Party Executive has said that all members of the Party will have a vote in the selection of a new leader, mostly by mail although some may vote at the convention. They have also said that each of the fifty-one ridings will have equal weight, so that our small rural ridings will not be swamped by urban constituencies. And each of the candidates will need to generate very broad support around the province, which is our opening.

A leadership contest is just a race to sign up new members - the candidates' friends and family and his/her organisation will be busy getting everyone they can find to join the party so they can vote for their candidate. The cost is $10. So, suppose that all of the people who are concerned about Northern Pulp's mill and its emissions into our air and water; and forestry policy (clearcutting); and the expansion of finfish farms in traditional lobstering habitat; and proposed gold mining in the Cobequid hills; and moves towards fracking in the Cumberland and Windsor geological formations; and the ongoing assault on our forests for chips to feed pulp mill boilers; and the sweetheart deals that let forestry companies scrape clean all of the Bowater lands that we taxpayers paid for - suppose all of us joined the Progressive Conservative Party and helped elect a leader that we could in good conscience vote for in a general election?

We are not going to find such a candidate ready-made - we are going to have to nudge all of the candidates along to a place where they realise that we can be part of their base, and a loyal part of their base. And they need to know that what we want is not incompatible with what everyone else wants. We want clean air, clean water. We want our provincial forests managed for the long-term, and not the slash-and-burn forestry by outsiders that we so deride in the Amazon. Economic development should not mean pitting one industry against another - the Mill against the lobster fishermen, finfish farms against local fishermen and the people who live around the bays. All of this stuff will poll well - city folk will stand with us.

The key to such a plan has to be moderation.

No sensible politician will embrace hard-and-fast positions until (and if) they absolutely  have to. One of the early lessons that most politicians learn is that there are always at least two (and often more) correct answers to any political question. For all of the people on the side of careful husbanding of our natural resources there are often richer and more influential people on the other side who want quick profits without regard to sustainability, and they often have the resources to hire shills and talkers who can reframe any issue in any way. Politicians have to balance all of these interests, and in the case of the forests, they also have to resist the entrenched bureaucracy of the Department of Natural Resources.

So we have to reframe the issues to achieve what we want. I don't want the Northern Pulp Mill to close. I just want it to operate in such a way that it does not harm the people who live and work nearby, and the natural environment  of which it is a part. We need environmental standards that meaningfully reflect the threshold for damage to the air we breathe and the water the fish swim in, and we need to know that those standards can and will be enforced.

I want a Mill that we can all live with.

I want a forest harvesting policy that ensures that there will be a forest for my grandchildren, and I expect that the forestry workers want the same thing. They see the damage that they are doing, but they know very well that if they quit in protest someone else will take their seat.

I want a harvesting practice that I can live with.

The same for finfish farming, gold mining, quarrying - something that I can live with.

When the candidates come calling (probably by email) I will be talking to them about all of these issues. I will be calm, and reasoned. But I want the regular folk in Nova Scotia to have a seat at the table when it comes time to make forestry policy, or to set standards for the Mill, or to open new lands for gold mining. Maybe the Ecology Action Centre could represent me. But the next premier needs to know that regular folk can't be ignored anymore.  At least not this one.

The Americans are having such trouble with gun control because the National Rifle Association has huge political influence. I have heard it suggested that the best way to de-fang the NRA is for all of the progressive folk to join, and then vote for new leaders. 

I think it's time we all joined the Conservative Party, and made it responsive to the electorate. Wouldn't that be something? This will be our best chance; let's not let it pass us by.

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