News

What have I done since Covid started?

Covid has changed most people’s lives. Covid cut me off from family and friends, and brought a crashing halt to my packed calendar of climate talks. So what have I done instead? My updates include:

1. Re-opening my environmental law practice, SaxeFacts Law Professional Corporation;

2. Receiving the Law Society Medal for exemplary leadership in environmental law;

3. Becoming a certified climate ambassador for the EnROADS climate policy simulator;

4. Receiving the Global Competent Boards Designation,

5. Becoming leader, with Ambassador Rosemary McCarney, of the Massey College climate initiative;

6. Launching my podcast on Canada’s green business leaders, Green Economy Heroes (https://saxefacts.com/green-economy-heroes-podcast/ )

7. Becoming deputy leader of the Ontario Green Party; and

8. Becoming the Green Party candidate for University Rosedale.

Plus I now have an amazing metal / plastic shoulder!

Can’t wait until I can share a meal with family and friends again. Hopefully sometime in the next few months…

No, Ford doesn’t follow science

I was not surprised that @fordnation doesn’t #FollowTheScience on Covid. One of his first acts as Premier was to fire Ontario’s Chief Scientist, and he almost never follows the science on climate. As John Ibbitson pointed out in the Globe today, the Conservatives typically distrust scientists and other experts who work to protect public health and the environment. We’ve seen the results many times, including the Walkerton water tragedy: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-will-doug-ford-meet-the-same-fate-as-mike-harris/.

Why did I use a flyer?

Thank you to everyone who asked me, “Why did you use a flyer?” People in University-Rosedale are environmentally conscious, so lots of mail boxes are labelled “no flyers” or “no junk mail”. Political communications are exempt from “no flyer” restrictions, but some residents consider paper flyers wasteful, and were puzzled (or worse) that an environmental leader like myself would distribute one.

Here is why we made a flyer:

  1. I don’t have any reasonable alternative way to introduce myself to most of the people in the riding:
    • We don’t have most people’s current e-mail addresses.
    • We can’t knock on doors or go main-streeting during Covid.
    • We can’t put up signs until the writ drops (probably next year).
    • Most people don’t want to be interrupted with a phone call.
    • Even if we bought an (expensive) phone list, and even if volunteers offered to spend thousands of hours trying to phone everyone, we wouldn’t reach the many University-Rosedale residents who only have cell phones, not land lines.
  2. Our flyer has a low environmental footprint. Printed paper is not a significant environmental problem in Toronto, with a much tinier impact than many people think, and we chose a careful local printer.
  3. Our flyer contains a lot of useful information in a convenient format, easily stored and easily shared. There is no equivalent with a smaller environmental footprint. Even e-mails have a surprisingly large environmental footprint, and a huge number of them go unread.
  4. We’re campaigning to win, and flyers work. We got a great response to this flyer, including an upsurge in donations and volunteers.

I’m sorry if you got a flyer that you didn’t want. If you have a better idea, please tell us: we’re wide open to suggestions. Thank you.

The politics of carbon pricing

Today, I was a panelist on Smart Prosperity’s Politics of Carbon Pricing webinar, representing the Green Party. This is what I said:

The climate crisis is like a wildfire, where the embers are already sizzling on our roof. The Liberal and NDP policies are like trying to save the house with  a garden hose. A garden hose is better than throwing gasoline, as the Conservatives do, but it won’t keep the house from burning down.

The Liberals and NDP have used the smoke screen of constitutional doubt as a figleaf, an excuse for not doing very much. Now that the court has ripped away this fig leaf, it is clearer than ever that they could deal with the climate crisis effectively, they just choose not to. This is the same point that Seth Klein made in his excellent book, the good war.

In the Second World War, almost every aspect of public and private life in Canada was designed to win the war. We will know that our leaders are taking the climate crisis seriously when everything in our daily lives is consistent with a livable future. In this world we would:

1. Have a strong climate law consistent with science so that we were actually on track to keep a stable climate and healthy ecosystems. Our emissions would be dropping by half this decade. There would be more rights for children and for nature than for corporations. 

2.Be actively disrupting fossil fuel lock-in, so that we do not dig a deeper trap for our children and grandchildren. That means no new money-losing pipelines, no new oil sands mines, no new suburbs. And it means investing our pension money in the future we want to live in, instead of in dead ends that will destroy it 

3. Be bending every effort to build a green, circular economy. We would be using Canadian human, financial and natural resources to invent and build the clean technology and equipment that the green economy needs. We would be supporting regenerative agriculture and eating better food as a result. We would have millions of good jobs, retrofitting buildings and building green infrastructure. Urban streets would be quiet, green, and safe, with clean air, lots of people, and silent buses. We would be able to hear the birds.

4. We would protect nature as if our lives depend on it, which it does 

5. We would see a steady decline in the inequality that the mainstream parties allowed to explode  for the last 40 years. Everyone would have a decent place to live within existing urban boundaries, with clean air, good transit, good schools and jobs and services nearby 

If we lived in that world, we could look our children and grandchildren  in the face and promise them a fair chance at a good future in a stable climate. 

But that is not the world we live in now. Right now, Canada has the highest per capita emissions in the G7. Our Paris commitment is weak and we’re not on track to meet it. And it’s so late in the game that winning slowly is the same as losing.

The mainstream parties keep going along as if the scientists can safely be ignored without consequences, as if we have so much time that tinkering at the edges is enough. They hint that they’re really doing as much as anyone could expect, that  people would never vote for real climate action, that we should be grateful for what they are doing.

Both the Second World War and the pandemic have shown us, again, that people respond to strong and honest leadership in a crisis. On the climate crisis, we’re not getting strong or honest leadership from any of the mainstream parties. What their policies really mean is “we know that we’re going to use it all up, but we’re doing what we can. Anyway  I’m going to be out of office by the time it gets really bad and then it won’t be my problem.”

That’s why Canadians need the Green Party. We tell the truths that the other parties skirt, and we show how a green lens illuminates better answers for a whole range of public problems, from housing to mental health. And once the public knows these answers are possible, it changes the mainstream conversation.

The legal fight over federal carbon pricing is finally over. Now the real work can begin

Please enjoy my Op Ed from the March 25, 2021 Toronto Star:

In our growing climate crisis, today is a pretty good day. The Supreme Court of Canada rejected Conservative premiers’ attacks on Canada’s federal carbon price, despite our complicated constitution. This should be the end of the anti- carbon price dead end. We have a real job to do. 

The climate crisis is an overwhelming threat to human civilization. Its dangers have been clear for decades. And we know what to do to keep a stable climate, and it includes slashing our emissions of greenhouse gas pollution by half this decade. 

No question, this will take work. For a century, we have built our infrastructure and our economy around burning fossil fuels. We have a small population, but we are one of the world’s worst carbon polluters both at home and abroad. Canada has profited heavily from digging up fossil fuels, especially petroleum from the oil sands. What Canada does about the climate crisis matters. Having wasted decades without effective climate action, we now have little time and a great deal to do. 

Fortunately, we have some excellent tools. The single most powerful is carbon pricing. It cannot solve the climate crisis on its own, but it levels the playing field between fossil fuels and a cleaner future, it rewards innovation and it reduces cost. When pollution is “free” we get more of it; when polluters pay for their damage, it’s remarkable how quickly they find alternatives. Without a carbon price, we will probably  speed ever faster towards climate breakdown. 

In the teeth of this emergency, the Conservative attack on the carbon price was a terrible waste of time, money and energy. Carbon pricing was a right wing invention, a market-based alternative to government regulation. Nevertheless, the Conservative Party, which just voted again to deny that climate change is real, has made opposing carbon prices a badge of loyalty, without offering anything in return. 

The Conservative premiers who spent millions attacking the federal law dismantled climate action in their own provinces. Doug Ford’s “Environment Plan” emphasizes litter pick up, while driving up emissions and air pollution with gas-fired electricity, highways and sprawl. When Erin O’Toole releases his carbon-price-free plan, I expect him to promise tree planting, nuclear power, and using CO2 to extract oil, expensive measures that will achieve little any time soon. 

Bottom line: the Conservatives do not offer a better alternative to carbon pricing, just delay, denial and greenwashing. No expensive future technology will somehow make everything fine. Planting trees and picking up litter are worthwhile, but continuing to burn fossil fuels as if  pollution  were “free” is a dead end. 

With Conservative provinces refusing to act, the federal Liberals stepped in with the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.The Conservatives turned this into a multi-year,  multi-million dollar turf war, which the Supreme Court has now mercifully brought to an end. The decision is a tough read, primarily concerned with how to squeeze carbon pricing into our constitutional straitjacket after 150 years of federal-provincial disputes. Ultimately, six judges upheld the Act, because do-nothing provinces threaten Canada as a whole. 

Now what? Canadians know we are in a climate crisis and want to see strong action, though most wrongly believe that Canada is already an environmental leader. To be honest, the carbon price has been too low (and its future too uncertain) to have driven down our emissions yet. It should have more impact now, with the price scheduled to increase, but many other initiatives are necessary if we are to get off fossil fuels in time. 

We need strong laws and strong regulations. We need a strong climate lens on every decision that governments make. We need transparent climate reporting. We need to disrupt fossil fuel lock-in. We need to protect nature. We need to make it easier, safer and more convenient to choose clean options. And we need to use the climate crisis, wherever possible, as a trigger to make health and inequality better.

Today, thank you to everyone who made this victory happen. Tomorrow, we must all go back to work. This case was an unfortunate sideshow. The real battles are ahead.

Dianne Saxe 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Canadian Bar Association Debate on a Climate Crisis Resolution

What I said to the Canadian Bar Association in its debate on a climate crisis resolution:

Climate change and environmental collapse are poised to sweep a just and fair society well out of our reach even for those of us lucky enough to live and practice in Canada. As the chief justice said, those who are already the most vulnerable will suffer the most, just as we have seen with COVID-19. Vulnerable people are more likely to suffer when climate extremes come, whether searing summer heat or floods or drought, and they are the least able to recover. Indigenous communities suffer the most as ice roads and coastal infrastructure crumble, as wildlife populations drop.

It is already happening.

We lawyers are not innocent bystanders. On average, we personally cause more climate pollution than other Canadians, because of our higher incomes. But more importantly, we play a powerful and privileged role in the system of law and justice that is a major cause of the crisis. It is our system of laws that has made pollution and environmental destruction “free”, that has made some people very rich at the cost of soaring inequality and massive destruction of nature, including the natural system on which we all depend. We lawyers, as individuals and as a group, have earned high status and high fees from serving this system. We are justly proud of its achievements and it is just to hold us accountable for its damage.

This resolution asks little of us, only to do our duty. To tell our clients about the risks they really face and about the real consequences of our actions.

To use our power and privilege for the high ideals we claim to serve.

It is part of our commercial interest to preserve a stable climate which can support a strong economy.

NDP folks switching to the Greens

It’s great to hear from former NDP stalwarts who are now switching to support the Green Party, and me. Here are two:

Folksinger Bob Bossin’s comic shows his switch after a lifetime of NDP support. Note the changing dogs:

Bob Bossin turning Green after a lifetime of NDP support

Per former NDP candidate /activist David Hitchcock:

“I was a New Democratic Party activist for 55 years and a three-time candidate for Member of Parliament. I have switched to the Green Party because I think that the Green Party understands and addresses better than any other Canadian political party the dominant political issue of our time: turning humanity from enemies of the Earth to friends of the Earth.We human beings are only one species among many in a complicated network of interdependent relationships. We do not have the right to pursue our own interests exclusively, ignoring the health of ecosystems and the welfare of other creatures. Further, if we ride roughshod over the rest of the Earth’s ecosystem, nature will bite back at us–as it is already doing (for example) with the harmful effects of our destabilization of the Earth’s climate.”

Thank you both very much indeed!

A level playing field for small retail business

One of the great features of a clean, green, compact city is shopping streets lined with small retail businesses and local restaurants. These shopping streets keep the community vibrant, create good careers and allow residents to meet their needs by foot, on bicycle, and by public transit. Such streets are one of the things I love about University Rosedale. Without them, more people will be forced into driving to big box stores.

Small retail businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, but they are suffering even more because of unfair rules set by the Ford government. For example, since Mr. Ford’s private chat with a big shot at Walmart, he has allowed big box stores to sell nonessential goods to anyone, in person, (as long as they sell some essentials too) while forcing small shops that sell the very same goods to close (curbside only). And why is there no support for local ordering and delivery? How many small retailers will be able to withstand more months of lockdown under rules like this? (We’ll look, at another time, at how much the Ford government mishandling of the pandemic has increased social and economic disruption.)

It’s going to take a huge amount of effort, and considerable time, to recover from the pandemic.

However, this unfair rule, and similarly destructive Ford policies, could be changed quickly. That’s why we have launched the Level Playing Field petition. Small retail businesses need our help now. Please sign the petition and tell your friends about it.

Please help elect me as a Green MPP

Please, I need your help to get elected as Ontario’s second Green MPP. We need hundreds of volunteers, thousands of new Green Party members and more than $100,000. 

SHORT VERSION:

Today is a good day to: 

– join our team of enthusiastic volunteers, from all over Ontario, at  https://votefordianne.ca,
– join the Green Party of Ontario and ask five other people to do the same (only $10/year), and /or
– make a campaign donation of what you can afford, at  https://votefordianne.ca.  

Would you like more details?

LONG VERSION:

The Ford government’s relentless attacks on nature make us less safe.  Just like Trump, they are using the powers of government and the cover of the pandemic to allow the few to get even richer at the expense of the public, of nature and of public space. 

There is much to be frightened and angry about in Ontario today; many of us struggle with climate despair. Voters can tell that something is wrong, that we are being lied to, that the Ford government is degrading Ontario. When you think about what we are leaving our children, how do you feel?

Do you want to keep feeling like that? I don’t. How do we change it? 

Who we elect REALLY matters

Government rules and infrastructure largely define the choices that individuals can make. Government establishes the peace, order and good government without which businesses and families cannot thrive.

Today, the Ford government is intentionally bulldozing hard won environmental protections and institutions, such as our conservation authorities, that protect nature and public space. Why do they consistently allow powerful developers to put big box stores and cookie-cutter houses on irreplaceable farmland, woodland, and wetland? This enriches their wealthy donors. But once these precious natural areas are gone, turned into subdivisions and big box stores, they will be almost impossible to restore. Ordinary people will suffer the climate and biodiversity consequences for generations, long after Doug Ford and his friends have pocketed their profits and moved on. 

Every credible scientist agrees that the climate and environmental crises are accelerating. As I reported to the Ontario Legislature when I was the (last) independent Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Ontario could be doing a lot about these crises, and improving the quality of life for most people at the same time. I have studied most of those solutions and made recommendations for how to make them work. Instead, the Ford government is dragging us down a slippery slope towards a painful collision with physics. It’s a frightening prospect.

So I’ve made a big, scary decision.

After 45 years of being meticulously non-partisan, I can no longer stand aside and merely shout at the radio when I learn about yet another environmental collapse or government outrage. Instead, I have taken a big leap and I am running for political office. In fact, I’m the newly-anointed Green Party of Ontario candidate for University- Rosedale for the June 2022 provincial election, and the new deputy leader for the Ontario Green Party.

We can win in University-Rosedale in 2022, if those who care work together and start now. After Mike Schreiner, I am the most winnable candidate that the Green Party has in Ontario. With my unparallelled training and experience, I am the best person to represent this riding, and to find a way forward in difficult times. 

I’m really enjoying working with Mike Schreiner and the warm, welcoming, invigorated Green party team. It’s a great place to share my climate grief and turn it into action.   Action feels way better than anxiety, especially concrete action with friends for a good cause. 

That’s where you come in. As you will see at https://votefordianne.ca, we need hundreds of volunteers, thousands of new Green Party members and more than $100,000. You can help by: 

– joining our team of enthusiastic volunteers, 

– joining the Green Party of Ontario and asking five other people to do the same (only $10/year), and 

– making a campaign donation of what you can afford.

Volunteers are essential. Money also has an enormous impact on the success of any political campaign. Once we raise some money, we can start hiring staff, and getting professional about social media and outreach. Neither the media nor most people take a candidate seriously unless they can raise serious money, because this is an easy metric of who can win.

Like me, you are probably deluged by requests for money from every conceivable good cause. Covid has put enormous strain on most charities, many families, and entire sectors of the economy, not to mention how it is ravaging many families, long-term care facilities, and the entire health system. But the climate and environmental crises have not slowed down just because we are in a pandemic. 

So, if you can afford it, please contribute to my campaign today at https://votefordianne.ca. Because of generous provincial tax credits, a donation of $100 before the end of December will yield a $75 tax credit on your tax return, for a net cost to you of only $25.  Please note that, under Elections Ontario rules, contributions may only be made by individuals normally resident in Ontario, using their own funds.

The annual maximum that you can give to the Green Party of Ontario in 2020 is $1,625.  If you are one of the remarkable people who have already hit that ceiling, you can also give up to $1625 to riding associations. In our case, you would mail a cheque to 506 Clinton St., Toronto, Ontario, M6G 2Z4, made out to University-Rosedale Green Party of Ontario CA.                                                                                              

 I can’t do this without you. Will you help me win University-Rosedale? Thank you!

Dianne