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Writer-s-Bloc

History predicts election

By Pat Murphy

Should the mooted federal election materialize, it’ll be the third time in 50 years that a minority Liberal government took an early trip to the polls.

So will the result resemble Pierre Trudeau of 1972 and 1974 (a minority followed by a big victory) or Paul Martin of 2004 and 2006 (a minority followed by a loss)?

Trudeau’s Liberals were shaken by the 1972 election. They went into it assuming a comfortable win, only to wind up dropping almost 40 seats and forfeiting their hitherto majority.

The contest was nip-and-tuck at the end. The Liberals finished just two seats ahead of the Conservatives and trailed everywhere except Quebec.

In the election’s immediate aftermath, there was the odd suggestion that it was time for Trudeau to go. But he was having none of it. Instead, he pivoted left.

Ideologically, this was Trudeau’s most palatable option. Strategically, it allowed him to court parliamentary support from the NDP and mend fences with old allies – such as the Toronto Star – that had abandoned him during the campaign.

The political payoff came two years down the road.

After deliberately engineering his government’s defeat in the House of Commons, Trudeau was back on the campaign trail for a July 1974 election that returned the Liberals to majority status. And having supported the government during the minority period, the NDP were rewarded by losing almost half of their seats.

This transformation of Liberal fortunes was an expression of ruthless politics at its most efficient. The same can’t be said for Martin’s travails in 2004 and 2006. Hapless would be a better descriptor.

A former finance minister, Martin was initially seen as a political giant. He was credited as the driving force behind the 1990s taming of Canada’s chronic federal deficits and he was expected to extend Liberal dominance into a second decade. There was even talk of a juggernaut that would win north of 200 parliamentary seats.

It didn’t happen that way.

Ensconced as prime minister in December 2003, Martin was revealed as very different from the anticipated political superman. The nickname “Mr. Dithers” quickly stuck. He was perceived as indecisive, vacillating and politically inept.

And the unfolding taint of the sponsorship scandal didn’t help. While Martin may have had no personal involvement, the Liberal Party certainly did.

Still, a comfortable win was expected in June 2004. The Liberals would, it was believed, score their fourth consecutive majority government. Instead, they lost more than 30 seats and were reduced to a fragile minority.

Almost from the get-go, it was obvious that the parliamentary situation wasn’t sustainable. There’d need to be another round. It came in January 2006.

Again, the Liberals started the campaign comfortably ahead – by as much as 15 points a week after the writ was issued. However, on election night they were down by six and their long run in office was over.

So which is the most likely precedent for 2021?

The first consideration is that the Liberals are Canada’s natural governing party, having been in office for approximately 70 years over the past century. They’re the default government. Their coalition is resilient and, like the United Kingdom Conservatives, their ability to co-opt is remarkable.

When the Liberals lose, it’s usually because of the wear and tear associated with extended periods in power. Think of the 22-year William Lyon Mackenzie King/Louis St. Laurent period between 1935 and 1957. It eventually gave way to six years of governance by Conservative John Diefenbaker, only to be reinstated for another extended Liberal sojourn in 1963.

The 2006 fall also came after a long run that had begun with Jean Chretien’s 1993 victory. Justin Trudeau, in contrast, has only been in office for six years.

Leaders also matter.

The Conservative who beat Martin, Stephen Harper, had many faults. Emphatically non-charismatic, he could be characterized as a micromanaging introvert who was often visibly uncomfortable on camera.

But Harper was seriously smart, politically shrewd and an effective debater. He also had a steely presence that suggested a credible prime minister.

Current Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has yet to demonstrate the same qualities. Maybe he will after the writ’s dropped.

Bottom line: it’s hard to see a repeat of 2006.

The current Liberal iteration hasn’t been in power long enough for serious fatigue to set in; Justin Trudeau isn’t Martin; and O’Toole is a question mark.

Of the two precedents, 1974 is more likely.

Pat Murphy is a Troy Media columnist, who casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in the world. Never cynical – well, perhaps a little bit.



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Rise of the 'grow-cer'

By Sylvain Charlebois

Canadians have started to notice that grocers have begun to sell plants in miniature greenhouses.

We’ve seen gardens on rooftops, vertical farms close to stores and even some selling gardening equipment to gardeners who are shopping for food. The farm is essentially merging with the food retail spaces we roam as consumers. It’s quite interesting.

We’re slowly witnessing the rise of the ‘grow-cer.’

For years, customers accepted the myth that food just magically shows up at the grocery store. But COVID-19 got many of us to think differently about supply chains – how food is grown, produced, transported, packaged and retailed.

With the addition of new farmgate features for city dwellers, grocery stores are slowly becoming the gateway to an entire world most of us rarely see: farming.

Sobeys has provided one recent example of what’s going on. The second largest grocer in Canada recently signed a partnership agreement with German-based Infarm to get greenhouses into many outlets across the country. Infarm units were installed last year in British Columbia and can now be found in many other locations across the country.

Infarm units enable Sobeys to offer fresh herbs and produce grown hydroponically, which requires 95 per cent less water, 90 per cent less transportation and 75 per cent less fertilizer than industrial agriculture. And no pesticides are used.

Available produce grown inside the store includes leafy greens, lettuce, kale, and herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint and parsley. Expansion plans include chili peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes. The growing cycle for most of these averages five weeks.

While Sobeys doesn’t have to worry about infrastructure and extra capital to change a store’s allure, it can get rid of these miniature vertical farms if proven unpopular or unnecessary. That works well for Sobeys and the consumer.

But it’s not just Sobeys. Other grocers now have decent-sized vertical farms inside the store or close to them.

The gardening rate in Canada has gone up by more than 20 per cent since the start of the pandemic last year. For consumers, growing their own food was about pride and taking control of their supply chain in some way.

For many others, though, gardening remains a luxury due to the lack of space or time. Since a trip to the grocery store is inevitable for most of us, grocers are bringing the farm to the store so consumers can have both the farming and the retail experience at once.

Before COVID, farmers desperately tried to get closer to city dwellers so their work could be appreciated. Campaigns over the years brought mixed results. Farming is still largely misunderstood.

Debates on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the use of chemicals have also divided urban and rural communities. City dwellers have always respected farmers and the hard work they do. But many consumers who are/were looking for natural and organically-produced goods have grown leery of farming in general.

This has attracted the attention of environmental groups opposed to many farming practices.

Grocers are starting to realize that bridging two worlds under one roof can help elevate their roles as ambassadors to an entire supply chain. Farmers can’t be replaced, of course, and they can’t be in stores.

For years, we saw pictures of farmers on packages and posters. It was nice, but it wasn’t real. The hard work, and everything else that comes with farming, can only be properly conveyed when visiting a farm or working on one for a while.

The pictures likely won’t disappear from grocery stores but they don’t really tell the whole story.

The new grow-cer brings the imagery of farming in retail to a new level. Grabbing a living plant or produce off a living plant is certainly real and increasingly valuable for Canadians longing for local and freshness. It just can’t get more local than growing it in the grocery store.

COVID-19 eliminated many rules for grocers. Every business played a part. Grocers sold food, processors manufactured it, and restaurants provided ready-to-eat solutions. Lines between sectors were already becoming blurred before COVID, given the crossing of concepts and elimination of lines between sectors.

For example, some of us have heard of the ‘grocerant’ concept, which has embedded food service into grocery stores. Consumers can relax, enjoy food before, during or after their grocery shopping.

But COVID blew up the blurred lines.

Grocers are becoming brokers, connecting various functions of the supply chain. Farming connects with retail by way of new initiatives that we’re now seeing everywhere.

For example, restaurants are selling meal kits through grocers’ apps. Few saw that coming.

Food brokering for grocers is no doubt the next frontier of growth.

Whether it will last is unknown. But grocers are embracing the fact they have the privilege of interacting with consumers every day. That privilege, more than ever, comes with a responsibility to show consumers the true value of food by being knowledge brokers.

If that means growing more food in stores, so be it.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.



Stressed about reopening

By Sheila Malcolmson and Jonny Morris

If you’re feeling anxious about B.C. reopening, you’re not alone.

We have spent the last 14 months staying apart to help protect our loved ones and communities. During these difficult times, we’ve dealt with the pandemic and the increasingly toxic drug supply. Through these challenges, we’ve felt increased anxiety, stress and depression, and grief and loss.

And now, we are taking slow, careful steps to come back together. Most importantly, more than 78% of British Columbians have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, so we can reconnect more safely.

Although many people are looking forward to resuming activities paused during the pandemic, some may feel anxiety during B.C.’s restart, including people who were living with mental health and addictions challenges before the pandemic began. In fact, a recent survey by Leger shows about half of Canadians are anxious about going back to how things were before. These feelings are normal and understandable given the past 14 months. And just like we were in the pandemic together, we’re also in the recovery and restart together.

That’s why the Province and other community partners are increasing options for mental health and addictions supports. This work started before the pandemic and has expanded quickly during the past year. Together, we will continue to support British Columbians’ mental health and well-being during B.C.’s restart and beyond.

The Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division (CMHA BC) has expanded its BounceBack program – a free skill-building program designed to help people manage low mood, mild to moderate depression, anxiety, stress or worry, and is available over the phone or online. The Province and CMHA BC also partnered with SafeCare BC to launch Care for Caregivers and Care to Speak – free programs for health-care workers. The CMHA BC and Here to Help websites are great places to start to look for resources and support.

Additional support for people experiencing anxiety includes the MindShift CBT app and other resources available through Anxiety Canada, and in the fall will include a health literacy campaign for children and teens to help manage anxiety experienced during the pandemic.

The Province also launched a new Foundry B.C. app for youth ages 12 to 24 and their caregivers. The app provides virtual access to integrated health and wellness services, such as drop-in and scheduled counselling, primary care, peer support and group sessions.

Low- and no-cost community counselling is available virtually and in every part of B.C., with support for many languages. If you or a loved one is experiencing anxiety, or other mental health or substance use challenges, you can find virtual low- and no-cost mental health supports online.

Our working lives were turned upside down during the pandemic. Some people working on the front lines haven’t had a break in more than a year, while others experienced inconsistent hours or job loss. Workplaces can have a significant impact on mental health, and we want to support staff and managers to rebuild organizations that are psychologically safe and healthy. B.C.’s new Workplace Mental Health Hub provides targeted training to people working in long-term and continuing care, tourism and hospitality, and social services. The hub provides information, webinars and workshops to help manage stress and build resilience.

The mental health and substance use effects of the pandemic will be felt in B.C. for months and years to come. We are committed to working together now and through these next critical phases of recovery to make lasting changes to services and supports that protect people today and create brighter futures for all people throughout this province.

Sheila Malcolmson is B.C.'s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Jonny Morris is CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division.



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An electric vehicle skeptic

By Kenneth Green

I’m not a climate skeptic. As an environmental scientist/engineer by training, I think climate change is real. But it’s like every other environmental issue: a more-or-less routine engineering challenge, rather than a world-altering disaster justifying the fever-dreams of the radical greens.

I am, however, an electric vehicle skeptic. Or, more broadly, I’m skeptical that electric vehicles, adopted either voluntarily or via government mandates (increasingly the norm), will do much of anything to address the risk of climate change or to significantly reduce any other environmental problem that one might point out.

I’m solidly convinced that shifting away from the internal combustion of hydrocarbons to battery-stored electricity (generated from pretty much any source) will likely make environmental problems worse, not better.

Along the way, the push to force EVs onto the public will come with a bunch of social injustices that will only compound the environmental challenges society faces.

A blog post by natural resource investment firm Goehring & Rozencwajg Associates breaks the story down (from some proprietary research not available to your humble correspondent). Without getting into the weeds, the question they answer is simple: In a head-to-head comparison, are electric cars likely to produce fewer greenhouse gases per kilometre travelled than a comparable hydrocarbon-powered vehicle?

The short answer is: No.

Why not?

As my doctor explains when I ask why my feet don’t work as well as other people’s feet: “It’s about the mass, dude. The mass around your waist, and the extra work your feet have to do to move it around with you.”

With electric cars, the problem is also about the mass: it’s about the added mass of greenhouse-gas-intensive steel and battery components that electric cars need, versus the mass of greenhouse-gas-intensive materials that regular internal combustion-powered cars need to do the same thing.

G&R observes that electric vehicle power systems are “50 per cent heavier than a similar internal combustion engine, requiring more steel and aluminum in the frame.” That means that more greenhouse gases are used to make that EV than your comparable Honda Civic – up to 20 to 50 per cent more than an internal combustion engine.

The batteries in electric cars lose efficiency pretty much from the minute they’re manufactured, as all batteries do. G&R points out that an extended-range Tesla Model 3 “has an 82 kWh battery and consumes approximately 29 kWh per 100 miles. Assuming each charge cycle has an approximately 95 per cent round-trip efficiency and a battery can achieve 500 cycles before starting to degrade, we conclude a Model 3 can drive 134,310 miles before dramatically losing range.”

And that’s a problem because it isn’t until the Tesla has hit that distance that it has “worked off” the extra greenhouse gas debt used to build it in the first place.

Based on real-world performance data developed in real-world application in recent years, with the best our technology has to offer, even if every passenger car were switched to an EV tomorrow, there would be no reduction in CO2 output.

What remains behind is not the technical question. It’s the big-picture, net-benefit question of whether forcing the replacement of internal combustion cars with electric cars really matters. And given that it’s taking the massive application of government coercion and subsidization to make that change happen, I would conclude that the answer to that big-picture question is a resounding: No.

The verdict is in: switching to electric vehicles won’t avert climate change, which is really the only legitimate rationale that governments would have to offer for trying to force them into the transportation sector in the first place. Regular old internal combustion engine technology has already abated the conventional air pollution problems of the past, so that excuse is dead.

It’s time to get government fingers off the steering wheels of our automotive sector and let people choose the transportation pathway they feel is best for their lives, not for the lives of would-be green crusaders living in electric dreams.

The raison d’être of vehicle electrification has lost its charge.

Kenneth Green is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.



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About the Author

Welcome to Writer’s Bloc, an opinion column for guest writers to share their experiences and viewpoints with our readers.

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Opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of Castanet. They are not news stories reported by our staff.



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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