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Ken Coates: Canada’s climate strategy is impassioned—and meaningless

Commentary

Discussions on climate change have all the finesse and charm of a junior high school dance. Everyone dresses nicely, chaperones are in place, a DJ orchestrates the event—but the participants sit uneasily on the sidelines, chattering amongst themselves and too nervous to take the first step.

COP26 is shaping up to be just such an event. National governments play the role of the principals, setting out the ground rules but leaving the real action for others. Environmental groups, the chaperones, give earnest and profound speeches about the need for urgency and dramatic action. But the citizens, the ones most affected by the planning and strategizing, sit in the bleachers, unsure of the first steps, bothered by the chaperones, and paying little attention to the principals. And like those excruciating dances, suffused with hormones and awkwardness, at the end of the day virtually nothing happens.

Given the need for urgent action on climate change, breaking the impasse and starting this dance has become essential. Moving from performative gestures to meaningful action is a global challenge.

Particularly so for Canada.

Moving forward requires a much more refined understanding of the relationship between natural resource development, Canada’s role in the world economy, and the behaviour and expectations of citizens. Without these, the climate debate in Canada and elsewhere will wallow in good intentions and shallow accomplishments. There are significant steps that have the potential to bring about meaningful change.

Increase the national investment in nuclear power—and do so with haste. Canada is a world leader in the production of uranium. We need to embrace nuclear energy as one of the safest, cleanest sources of energy needed to replace fossil fuels. Small modular reactors have considerable promise and work in this area should be fast-tracked. This must become a top national priority.

The green economy relies on a steady and secure supply of critical minerals. Canada has them in abundance—but also has one of the most convoluted regulatory environments in the world. Canada needs to expedite production of these minerals, coordinate Canadian output with the global demand of our allies, and invest in the processing and manufacturing associated with these minerals. The 21st century economy relies on critical minerals. Canada can, in this manner, establish a firm, long-term place in the renewable energy economy.

Moving from performative gestures to meaningful action is a global challenge.

Canada must understand the global place of its natural resource production. Canadian oil and gas can support the efforts of East and South Asia to displace coal-based energy consumption. Specialized minerals are urgently needed to underpin the transition to renewable resources. The country’s water, hydroelectric, and forestry resources also have global significance and must be developed carefully and in the interests of the people of Canada. In an ironic twist that has been missing from the debate, active engagement in the green economy requires more resource development, not less.

If the citizens are to be brought along on this journey, economic opportunity must continue. Social programs require sustainable funding—and so do the massive investments needed for a meaningful green transition. Canadian development has become investment-averse due to an outsized regulatory burden which must be corrected. Moreover, prioritizing clear growth targets, such as the doubling of Canada’s GDP by 2050, will be crucial to keep the public on board with ambitious climate goals. Simply put, we must be prosperous if we are to lead a green transition.

Perhaps most importantly, the country needs to learn to stand up to the comparatively small number of activists with out-sized impact in creating the status quo. Their passion and commitment are admirable, and their ideas have educated Canadians about the real threat of ignoring the environment. But the negative, anti-development ethos that has accompanied sage advice about the environment actually stops Canada from responding constructively. Being practical about climate change requires urgent action of course, but that action includes developing the resources and infrastructure necessary to actually transition.

The soft mush of the last federal election provided no serious direction for the difficult decisions that our country must make. All parties focused on expanding government services to citizens without articulating a coherent economic vision for the country. No party outlined a strategy of constructive engagement with 21st century realities that could keep the country economically strong while making real contributions to combat climate change.

Opportunities exist for Canada to become a major global player; our current strategy, however, is sending us headstrong to national mediocrity, inaction on meaningful climate change initiatives, and to a lower quality of life. This is not the outcome that Canadians desire.

Patrick Luciani: A better homeless solution for Canada: Follow Houston, not Seattle

Commentary

This past summer, the City of Toronto made the right decision to move the homeless out of city parks. It was good for the homeless, those who use the parks, and the city. Otherwise, Toronto was going down the same disastrous route as big West Coast American cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

When the police and city workers moved in to clear the parks, hundreds of protesters showed up trying to stop the police from clearing the encampments. There was also a smattering of support throughout the city with signs of “We welcome our homeless neighbours in parks.”

Why would these poverty advocates and progressives want to keep the homeless—many with mental health and drug addictions problems—living in substandard conditions? These makeshift camps were dirty, unsafe, and littered with trash and discarded needles. It’s not as if the homeless were abandoned; most were taken to shelters or hotels throughout the city. Yet protesters insisted that squatters be allowed to live rough in public parks.

There are two possible answers; the first has to do with the political use of the poor for PR reasons. This is sometimes called the Principal-Agent problem, where the agent works against the principal’s interests, in this case, the poor. Agents, or advocates, need the homeless living in tents as a constant reminder to society of the failure of an elite political and economic system that keeps part of the population in abject poverty.

Cynical? Yes, but let’s not underestimate the power these tent cities have on the emotional appeal to the public.

Second, progressives see the world as a complex relationship where the powerful oppress those without. This comes directly from the playbook of post-modern thinking about mental illness and crime as “social constructs.”

Eliminate mental illness as a medical condition, and the homeless are just victims of society. Such thinking has had a powerful effect on modern psychiatric thinking over the past few decades. Deinstitutionalization is now considered a marginal success at best; 75 percent of homeless women suffer from some form of mental illness.

As far as crime is concerned, extremists on the left advocate radical reform to the point of abolishing all forms of punishment. The underlying foundation for the defund-the-police movement is based on the premise that crime is just another way of “getting by” for a segment of society.

Travelling down that road will surely lead to more homelessness and crime.

In Seattle, 51 percent of the homeless migrated from other cities.

A recent article by Christopher Rufo for the Manhattan Institute suggests a reason why. Rufo outlines how the left and right think differently about the homeless by turning to the insights of American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt argues that progressives and liberals, in the modern sense of that word, have an optimistic view of human nature and are more concerned with care, fairness, and the belief that the homeless are victims of circumstances. On the other hand, conservatives value compassion, respect, cleanliness, obeying the law, self-control, and the obligations of individuals to their community or group. The right also has a more sober view of human nature.

Rufo puts both of these attitudes to the test as to which makes better public policy.

Contrary to perceived wisdom and media coverage, homelessness in the United States has declined in 40 states from 2009 to 2019. However, homelessness has increased in California, Oregon and Washington, which account for a third of the U.S. homeless population. In the case of Los Angeles and Houston, two cities with comparable climate—as a factor in attracting the homeless—Houston has seen a steady decline in homelessness by 54 percent over the past decade, while increasing 24 percent in San Francisco, 15 percent in Los Angeles and 25 percent in Seattle.

Houston’s successful approach, called compassionate enforcement, was achieved not only with supportive social policies but with an emphasis on enforcing the law by forbidding minor crimes such as panhandling and windshield washers.

West Coast cities have moved in the opposite direction by allowing illegal camps to expand, encouraging drug injection sites, and decriminalizing theft under $950. Progressives also see law enforcement as the problem and not the solution. In Seattle, local politicians even opposed hosing down feces-covered sidewalks “because hoses supposedly have racist connotations.” Rufo’s article also states that homeless addicts are almost a hundred times more likely to commit crimes than the average citizen.

The homeless have been generally seen as a group immune to conventional economic incentives. We now know they act rationally by moving to cities and communities that provide readily available social services, have low levels of law enforcement, and tolerate petty crime. In Seattle, 51 percent of the homeless migrated from other cities.

Moving squatters to safer shelters is a start, but without a vigilant attitude, we know they’ll be back. The objective is to balance the provision of public service while maintaining public order. Canada’s major cities have a choice to make: follow the West Coast model or that of Houston. Given the results so far, the decision seems straightforward.