Statement on Proposed Enerdu Power Plant Expansion in Almonte

A proposal has been made to replace the existing 300 kW Enerdu run-of-river power station in the Mill on the Mississippi River in the middle of Almonte with a new station producing three times the power.  Construction of this new facility will require removal of over one thousand cubic metres of limestone bedrock, including some of the existing falls.  It will also replace the existing weir with a much larger dam structure designed to optimise water flow for power generation.  Both these changes will affect the character of downtown Almonte.  Access to the waterfront at the power station would be restricted.

The new, larger weir may accelerate the die-back of the Appleton Wetlands (which is designated provincially-significant) upstream of Almonte, which has been partially attributed to manipulation of the water levels by increasing the height of the ‘flashboards’ atop the existing weir several years ago.  This affects the 9 km long “Reach 18″, upstream to the village of Appleton (see figure), which in effect becomes a reservoir for the Enerdu station.  The Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority has requested that the Ministry of Natural Resources perform further study and amend the allowable water limits accordingly.

Reach 18 of the Mississippi River upstream of Almonte (A) to Appleton (B) [Google Maps]

Reach 18 of the Mississippi River upstream of Almonte (A) to Appleton (B) [Google Maps]

Continued frequent changes in water flow and level may cause erosion of the river bank and affect the river, river-side, recreational users and property owners along “Reach 18″of the Mississippi as well as those downstream.  The Town of Mississippi Mills has requested that the Ministry of the Environment perform a comprehensive Environmental Assessment to supplement the self-assessment made on behalf of Enerdu.

The community opposition to this power station, spearheaded by the Mississippi RiverWatchers, cannot be accused of NIMBY-ism for Almonte already has the 4600 kW run-of-river Gallagher power station just 240m downstream of the Enerdu station.  The Gallagher station re-opened in 2010 after a major upgrade.

Finally, the Enerdu proposal does not actually seem to be a true run-of-river power station.  There is evidence that the existing station is already being operated in a fashion designed to maximise power output by stopping and starting the power station to take advantage of peak market electricity rates.  The selection of the new Obermeyer weir design seems intended to continue this practice with the replacement station.  The community also has concerns about noise levels as well as increased flood risk due to the narrowing of the river channel by the new power station located on the river bed.

 We, the Carleton-Mississippi Mills Green Party Executive therefore call on:

  1. The Ministry of Natural Resources to act on the request made in November 2012 by the Mississippi RiverKeepers and the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority to review the allowable water levels on Reach 18 per the Mississippi River Water Management Plan in light of the die-back in the Appleton Wetland;
  2. The Ministry of the Environment to act on the request made by the Corporation of the Town of Mississippi Mills for a Part II Order Request for a more comprehensive analysis of the project; and
  3. Enerdu to be more forthcoming and transparent in answering questions from concerned parties about how this power station will be operated and how it will affect the community.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma of Electoral Reform

There are many reasons to fear electoral cooperation.  Adam ably questions the assumptions being made about the electoral math.   I for one fear the campaign itself.  You do not need to have been following Canadian federal politics very closely to realise that such cooperation will be attacked vociferously by the CPC machine as anti-democratic.  The last attempt at coalition between the Liberals and NDP in December 2008 was attacked as just such a demon, even though it would have resulted in a group of like-minded MPs representing a larger fraction of the voters who elected them than the governing CPC (in Federal Election of Oct 2008, the CPC earned 38% of the vote versus a combined 45% by the LPC and NDP).

The CPC machine would welcome a new agreement, as it would give them unlimited opportunity to attack the other parties for denying voters choice, without having to discuss other annoying issues like, say, eviscerated environmental laws, muzzled scientists, weakened inspection and auditing, F-35, the Swiss cheese masquerading as our tax system, the concentration of power in the PMO, … and that’s before getting to inaction on climate change!

But let’s back up a step and look at why electoral cooperation is being proposed.  The faults of our First-Past-The Post system are well known:

  1. First and foremost, it frequently delivers a false majority; i.e. a majority of the seats despite a minority of the votes.  The current government won 54% of the seats with less than 40% of the votes (cast by fewer than 25% of eligible voters!).  In fact Canada has only had one true majority in the last 50 years (the Mulroney landslide of 1984).
  2. Second, for a small party like ours with thinly spread support, votes do not translate into seats.  Our 4% of the vote in 2011 should have garnered a dozen seats; imagine the House with a dozen Elizabeth May’s holding the government to account; with a Green MP watching every committee.

Many have talked about electoral reform in the past, but somehow what seems like a good idea in opposition pales once a party grasps the reins of power.  As long as the Liberals and Conservatives trade sides of the House every two or three elections, both are happy enough to shut everyone else out. But now, after seven years of Harper government with no signs of party consolidation on the ‘Left’, it looks like things might have permanently changed, especially as the CPC continues to tilt our democracy in its favour.  What then, can be done?

If you accept that the long-term solution is electoral reform, then we have to put it on the political agenda not just as one more election issue but as the election issue – a referendum on our current electoral system.  That is why Elizabeth May (among others, including Joyce Murray) is proposing one-time cooperation with a single goal.  Let’s set aside all the other issues on which we will never agree (if we could, the ‘Left’ would have merged and we wouldn’t be having this discussion) and – like smart prisoners – cooperate.

Then what?  The coalition parties are on the horns of a dilemma: if they can agree on a particular voting system (and there are many different systems already in use around the world), they then have to sell it to the voters.  Given the difficulties faced in the three provincial referenda to date (BC, ON & PEI), that seems unlikely.  A better approach might be for the coalition to agree on a mechanism to start down the path to change (say, everybody’s ‘favourite’, a Royal Commission or better yet a Citizens’ Assembly).

And then come out swinging, with a simple effective explanation to voters as to why this matters and how it would work.  Not only is it necessary to explain to voters why electoral reform is required, but also that this is a one-time alliance.  That is, that such a coalition is asking the voters to hold their noses and select the local candidate most likely to enact electoral reform on the understanding – nay, commitment – that they will stay just long enough to fix the electoral system, and then call an election under the new rules.  This also presumes that so-called progressive voters are on the ABC bandwagon – and would still turn out to vote given only one choice.  It is enforced strategic voting – but with an actual mandate.

It might even bring some non-voters out to the booths – those that are disheartened by the current disgrace on the Hill or who assume that their vote can’t change anything.  An election on electoral reform means this vote – and every future vote – will matter.  Proportional representation makes your vote worth more and do more.  It’s used all over the world: the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Australian states.  So it’s worth pursuing to make Canada better.

If we miss this opportunity to cooperate, who knows when it will arise again?  If the CPC machine wins again in 2015 – and at this juncture who would bet against it, Justin Trudeau not withstanding – then the next election will be in 2020.  Of course by then the Arctic might have completely melted and a “Green surge” may sweep us into power a là the “Orange crush” – but that is not a strategy.

Results of the Nov 26 By-Elections

The three by-elections are behind us, but the results were interesting, and worth reflecting on.  Despite the dreams of many, all three went to the incumbent party.  But let’s look further:

  • Victoria was the tightest race.  It was taken by the NDP with 37% of the vote.  But the Green Party was a close second, with 34% of the vote.  The Conservatives and Liberals were well behind, albeit with similar fractions of the vote (15 & 13% respectively).
  • Calgary Centre was taken by the Conservatives with 37% of the vote.  The Liberals followed closely with 33%, while the Greens took a very respectable 26%.  The NDP were well back with just 4%.
  • Durham was also taken by the Conservatives, but with 51% of the vote, making it the only outright majority of the night: every second voter in Durham chose Conservative.  The NDP took a respectable 26% while the Liberals took 17%.  The Greens trailed with just 4%.

So, three ridings, and three quite different results, which is to be expected.  Do the results indicate anything further?  By-elections are traditionally seen as the place to lodge a protest vote and to be more sensitive to local issues that usually get drowned out in a general election.  But by averaging the results, perhaps we can learn something more.  The average vote across the three ridings looks like this:

ByElection Piechart small

So the NDP, Greens and Liberals were neck-and-neck, each with one-fifth of the vote.  For Greens, this marked a significant improvement from the 2011 general election, proving that there is widespread potential.   The results also reinvigorated the notion that the non-Conservative vote is split, leading for calls to unite the parties.  But that is a subject for another post.

Source: Results from “Elections Canada” website, http://enr.elections.ca/ElectoralDistricts_e.aspx