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tdc's Frank de Jong Interview - "One on One"


 

Frank de Jong is the leader of the Green Party of Ontario and the candidate for Davenport. He lives in Toronto with his partner, writer and artist Kelley Aitken.

Frank was born in Ontario in 1955 to Dutch immigrant parents and grew up on a dairy farm north of Guelph. He earned his B.A. from the University of Western Ontario in 1978 and a B.Ed. from the University of Ottawa in 1979. Throughout the 1980s de Jong was active on the issues of nuclear weapons, pro-choice, Ontario's old growth forests, and Central America solidarity.

In the early 90s he became involved in Green electoral politics and now argues for true cost pricing, green tax shifting, 100% renewable electricity, preventive health care, province-wide organic agriculture, an end to poverty, funding for non-religious public schools only, minimal tuition, walkable communities linked by rail, bio-based manufacturing and total waste diversion.

On April 12, 2008 tdc's FarmGate Editor and Publisher Joe Lor requested an interview
with Frank de Jong by submitting 16 questions to the leader of the Green Party of Ontario.
On April 17th, Frank submitted the answers to these questions.
 
tdc's FarmGate wanted to find out a little more about the philosophy and ideas
of this interesting man who might someday lead the Government of Ontario.

1. Can you give our viewers a little bit of background on why and how you became interested in Environmental issues
    and Politics?

de Jong -
My farm upbringing had an indirect but profound effect on me with respect to how I view nature. As a child on a Southern Ontario dairy farm it was clear to me that the financial health of our family depended directly on nature. Droughts, too much rain, insect infestations, the death of a cow, etc. all cause my parents to be glum or depressed, and good times we saw them happy, confident and relaxed. As a farm child my 6 brothers and sisters were almost free labour for my parents, and mostly we was happy to be of service and proud in the knowledge that I was contributing to our family income. The flip side of this was that when by accident we broke an implement or caused some other problem we felt guilty of diminishing our farm income.

Becoming politically active came years later was unrelated to my upbringing. My parents, relatives and most of our farm neighbours were Dutch immigrants who were glad to be alive after the 2nd world war; they had no pretensions to being in positions of responsibility in our community, province or country. My parents had no political involvement at all short of voting. I think they voted Liberal, but they never said, nor did I ever ask. It was never dinner table discussion, or if it was, I totally ignored it. As a child I had no worries about the planet or local ecosystems. In the 60's and 70s in my community at least, this concern was not at all part of our lives. We, foolishly, assumed all was well.


I was born in 1955 to Dutch immigrant parents and grew up on a dairy farm north of Guelph. I earned his B.A. from the University of Western Ontario in 1978 and a B.Ed. from the University of Ottawa in 1979, but this had nothing to do with politics or environmentalism.

Throughout the 1980s I was active on the issues of nuclear weapons, pro-choice, Ontario's old growth forests, and Central America solidarity. In the early 90s I became involved in Green electoral politics and now argues for green tax shifting, true cost pricing, 100% renewable electricity for Ontario, preventive health care, province-wide organic agriculture, funding for only one public school system, minimal tuition, bio-based manufacturing, total waste diversion. I became a member of the Green Party of Ontario since 1987, and have been leader since 1993.

2. In your opinion is there a growing lack of understanding on green issues between those who live in densely populated urban areas of Ontario and those who live in rural areas?  --- Are there specific areas of compatibility on Green issues for both areas and are there unique challenges for both?

de Jong -
In some way rural folks are more in tune with nature since they must live with weather, distance, landscapes in a much more intimate way then city folks. Rural people often depend on nature directly for their living which is not the case with urbanites. But the irony is because they live "in" nature much more then city folks they often take nature for granted and cause damage by neglect or by design. On the other hand since city people  perhaps then to romanticize nature more and imagine themselves living closer to nature, they tend to donate more time and money to preserve nature outside of the city or even in other countries. It's hard to know, but many people in both rural and urban areas are very dedicated to living lightly on the planet.
 

3. It is well known that climate change and other issues regarding atmospheric and land pollution are caused by high density population -  If elected  would you consider slowing or stopping the rate of urban expansion as one of the ways to reduce pollution.

de Jong - Ontarians would like to live where you wake up in the morning to the sound of birds rather then traffic, where there are wildflower butterfly gardens rather then parking lots, where the air is clean, and where kids and seniors can walk and cycle without fear.

The private automobile reduces the quality of life in cities and towns. Cars -regardless of what propels them -- are expensive, polluting, noisy, and dangerous. They monopolize up to 40% of urban land, yet serve the transportation needs of only 50% of society stranding everyone who is too old, too young or too poor or too disabled to drive.

With the reality of climate change, peak oil, toxic air, all urban areas in Ontario must be rebuilt into walkable communities linked by transit, cycle paths and walking paths. Communities of roughly about 20,000 can be designed so everyone can walk to basic amenities like jobs, shopping, schools, churches, theatres, parks cafes.


The necessary emergency, transit, trades and police vehicles should be plug-in hybrids, electric, or hydrogen vehicles.

The Green Party of Ontario will facilitate the reconstruction of the present car-dependent sprawl into low-energy walkable communities without government subsidies by implementing market-based mechanisms.

4. If we as a society adopts the idea of a green economy there will be a tremendous shift in our lifestyles and values. Do you think that Canadians are ready to adopt these changes and what role do you think governments will play to help make these adaptations?

de Jong -Yes. There are many easy things people can do to help the planet that won't require major changes to their daily lives, like using compact fluorescent bulbs, recycling, cycling or walking more, using a clothesline, buying local food, not using pesticides.... Then there are bigger eco-improvements which will require more modifications to their lives, like buying smarter appliances, insolating their homes, not flying unless necessary, eating lower on the food chain... Thirdly, there are big changes that people can take that take serious dedication like having fewer or no children, moving to a walkable neighbourhood and get rid of their cars, going off grid, becoming a vegetarian, switching to a greener job... For the sake of future generations, we should all try to live as lightly on the planet as possible.

Specifically:

5. Climate: Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollution

In your opinion are we as a society capable of making the necessary changes to stop the present trends in climate change in time or is it too late?

de Jong - Don't know, but we must try.

1. The GPO objective is to reduce Ontario's CO2 emissions 90% below 1990 levels by 2050. (We also need intermediate goals.)

2. Ontario will reduce CO2 emissions through tax shifting -- not with a new tax -- by implementing a revenue neutral shift off incomes and businesses and onto CO2. This will reduce pollution and encourage value-added, labour-intensive local production.

3. CO2 taxes will be applied at point of entry of oil, gas, coal into the province rather then on emissions in order to green the entire manufacturing process and not just target consumers, allowing the invisible green hand to reduce co2 emissions without government micromanagement.

4. Our plan will help northern communities and Ontario farmers by taking advantage of the sequestering capacity of forests and agricultural land.

6. Fossil fuels: The GPO will address climate change through tax shifting, not by additional taxes. Unless the federal government applies an adequate carbon trading system, the GPO would phase in a carbon tax at entry point of oil, gas and coal into the province, raising it over 10 years to $30 per tonne of assessed CO2 as part of a revenue-neutral tax shift off income and business taxes. Ontario emits 200 Mt of CO2, an average of 20 tonnes per capita. Fully implemented a $30 per tonne carbon tax would generate roughly $6 billion per year, allowing the reduction of Ontario income and business taxes by this same amount.


7. Forests: Preserved boreal forests store 170 tonnes of carbon per ha; up to 50% more then managed industrial forests. To conserve forests the GPO would move the responsibility for issuing cutting licenses from the MNR to northern Ontario communities and then, as part of the carbon tax shift, compensate communities for the carbon sequestration they provide by keeping forests intact.

8. Agriculture: Through tax shifting, the GPO will encourage farmers to move to organic techniques since organic agriculture sequesters significant tonnage of CO2 per year per Ha, storing more each year as soil builds thicker. In comparison industrial agriculture releases existing CO2 as it degrades topsoil. Ontario farms will be encouraged to produce fuels like bio-diesel and bio-gas (not ethanol).


9. Electricity: The GPO will remove price caps and apply the true costs of  electricity to allow conservation and renewables to become cost effective. Our objective is 100% renewable electricity by 2050 without subsidies, with electricity generated by wind, low-impact hydro, biomass, biogas and solar. The GPO will not build new natural gas and will phase out nuclear and coal as conservation and renewables come on stream. We oppose constructing new transmission lines to the proposed Manitoba Conawapa dam.

10. Landfills: are the largest source of anthropogenic methane, a greenhouse gas that is 40X as potent as CO2. If we're serious about climate change in Ontario then we need to set solid limits on MSWs (Municipal Solid Waste)  divert ICW's (industrial commercial waste) towards energy production and build municipal composting infrastructure. We can begin by supporting 60% MSW diversion by 2010 and recapturing of landfill methane.

If Earth's average temp rises by over 2 degrees by 2050 it is predicted to drive up to 30 per cent of know animal species to extinction, with migrating birds especially vulnerable.

11. Water Pollution: Many municipalities are paying enormous amounts of money to construct water pollution control plants - Are taxpayers getting their fair return in investment here to control water pollution or should we be concentrating on reducing the sources of pollution so that we do not have to build very expensive water treatment plants?

Municipalities bill their customers around .001/litre for water, which means about 1/10th of a cent per litre. A litre of water at a store cost about $1 per litre. This means that bottled water costs about 1,000 the cost of tap water.


As part of the tax shift away from retail sales tax, corporate taxes and income taxes, the GPO should support a province-wide water-taking levy. Other provincial or local water taking regulations would remain in effect.

Aside from generating revenue and incenting water conservation, a water levy would provide a mechanism to determine how much water is being taken yearly, from where and for what purpose.

To encourage water conservation, the GPO supports a levy at the rate of $0.001 per litre on all water taking from ground water or surface water, for farmers, industry, or households. If the full permit amounts were used this would generate $1.8 billion to the provincial government. If 75% of the amount of the permit was made use of, this levy would generate $1.35 billion.


12. Population in higher density population is better environmentally than low density population?  And if it is - what changes to the present planning act are needed.

de Jong - To achieve sustainability Ontario needs to either reduce its population by 3/4 or reduce industrial throughput by 3/4, or a combination. The size of the economy is not relevant, only the amount of nature that we consume per capita.

Population X Consumption Level = Ecological Impact

It is right to challenge the conventional wisdom that increasing the provincial population from 12 million to 16 or even 18 million over the next 25 years is wise and prudent. The resulting demands for water, sewer systems, roads, utility corridors, aggregates and urban expansion will be more then Southern Ontario's ecosystems can support.

Arguably Ontario's population level is already over its ecological limits. We import half a million barrels of crude oil every day, we export garbage, we are paving over our best farm land, our air is badly polluted, and one in 5 children lives in poverty.

It is clear that, for ecological reasons, not racism, the government should consider the carrying capacity of our natural systems in future land use decisions.

It is not only population numbers but also per capita consumption that determines our impact on the natural world. Sustainable population levels depend on how high we live on the ecological hog. If we reduce consumption and pollution then perhaps population could safely increase.

Ontario should optimize its population level, not maximize it. We should evaluate our carrying capacity and then balance the number of human to match.


13. Refuse -  How can we dramatically reduce the amount of refuse that we are  generating? What is the best way to dispose of our refuse?

de Jong - Per capita, Ontario citizens produce 160 pounds of garbage per year each. Less then 1% of televisions and only 2% of computers are diverted from landfill in Ontario, Expanding existing dumps or starting new ones are no longer viable solutions. Rural Ontarians should not be forced to accept the smell, truck traffic, threat to ground water, and reduced property values that garbage dumps bring. Presently Ontario has goal of 60% diversion. The Ontario government must take action to divert 100% of the waste stream. Nova Scotia diverted 50% in 5 years creating 1000 jobs in 1996, and since then up to 2,000 jobs in industries separating materials. Markham is not at 70% waste diversion.

Even though today's incinerators are cleaner then in the past, the emissions still contain toxic nanoparticles that evade even the most modern pollution control devices. And what isn't released into the atmosphere is leftover ash which is an acidic toxic composite, representing 30% of the original bulk, which must be buried in a hazardous waste site at added expense and danger to underground water. Furthermore, incineration is double the cost of landfill.

When polyvinyl chloride is burned in any incinerator some dioxin is produced, and even tiny amounts act as hormone disrupters. And when plastics are burned the greenhouse gasses associated with manufacturing new plastics (including upstream emissions from oil fields, pipelines, refineries) are double the emissions created in recycling plastic.

Incinerators distract from recycling, reuse, repair, recover and composting programs since the used materials that burn most readily are those that are most easily recycled.

Garbage is mistakenly left up to local politics when it should be within provincial, federal and international jurisdiction. Municipalities won't be able to get to zero garbage without "extended producer responsibility" legislation from the federal and provincial governments.

International protocols regulating product design are also part of the solution. All products and packaging must be designed from the outset to be repairable, reusable, recyclable, recoverable or compostable.

There should be no such thing as garbage, dumps or incineration.


14. Energy Generation : What are the most least costly viable types of energy that do not have impact upon our environment and how can we implement them in Ontario?

de Jong - Currently, some 26 per cent of Ontario's electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, which emit carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Ontario should allow the price of electricity to reflect its' true costs, Ontario could meet its energy needs without nuclear, coal, oil or gas generation. Instead, we can achieve a sustainable energy future through a mix of renewables including wind, low-impact hydro, biomass, biogas and solar combined with aggressive conservation programs and demand management.

15. Other Issues

It is said that the Green Party is a one issue party - how do you respond to this sort of criticism ? What solutions does the Green party have for stimulation of Ontario's manufacturing sector, revitalization of the tourism economic sector, crumbling infrastructure especially in large metropolitan areas like Toronto, rising cost of education and healthcare,
support for our troops in Afghanistan, equalization payments to the provinces from the feds?

de Jong - So far the public knows little about the Green Party other then that its self-evident environmentalist leanings. Perhaps most interestingly is the confusion as to where is the Green Party positioned on the political spectrum in Canadian politics - left, right, or center. Or perhaps the Green Party does not fit the left-right continuum at all.

To examine how the Greens fit in, we should look at the core beliefs of each major party.

Conservatives take pride in their pursuit of fiscally responsibility, Liberals strive to provide everyone with a high quality of life, and the NDP emphasizes social progressivism and economic equity.  Greens, of course, have ecological sustainability as their principle tenant.  From another perspective, Conservatives focus on the economy, Liberals emphasize material comforts, the NDP stresses social justice and Greens prioritize a healthy environment.


Of course, all political parties have policies that address each of these issues and none of them are mutually exclusive.  However, it is clear that each party has a different emphasis in the way they rank priorities.

Historically, the principle political concerns in Canada were fiscal responsibility, economic growth to provide the capacity to purchase consumer goods, and social programs.  Each of these priorities had a political party to champion the cause.  And now that environmental problems are an unavoidable issue, it is clear that Canada needs a new party, a Green Party, which prioritizes ecological sustainability.


It is clear that band-aid solutions will not address the ecological crisis we are facing.  Regardless of which traditional party is in power, environmental problems are multiplying.  One reason is that none of the industrial age parties are truly capable of integrating ecological thinking into the core beliefs of their political platforms.  It is not because they don't care about the environment.  Rather, it is because they cannot make the transition to ecological age thinking since the environment is simply a plank in their platform and not at the core of how they think about public policy.

Ecology is the core premise of the Green Party, but how does this translate into public policy?  The Green Party emerged from leftist environmental and social justice movements, and initially Greens focused on social issues and environmental preservation through government intervention in the economy. However, over the years Greens have realized that ecological thinking must be an integral part of economic activity and not viewed as a constraint on economic growth.


While Greens still hold firmly to principles of social justice and economic equity, they have developed innovative policies that harness market mechanisms to achieve ecological sustainability and social justice.  Greens recognize that markets can be powerful engines for innovation, creativity and efficiency.  However, government policies over the past century --
primarily tax breaks and subsidies for industrial development -- have distorted markets in ways that enable businesses to externalize costs onto others, the poor future generations and other species.  In other words, a few have gotten wealthy at the expense of the general taxpayer, the natural environment, future generations, and other species.

Greens believe that ecological economic policy begins with a reform of our tax system and by ending subsidies for industries that exhaust natural resources and produce pollution.  Businesses should not be taxed for hiring people or for making a reasonable profit.  Instead, they should pay levies and fees for squandering resources, using land inefficiently and polluting the planet. People should not be taxed for working, but should pay for the amount of land, energy and resources they use.  A Green government would shift taxes off labour and onto resources so that people would have a financial incentive to choose green products and lifestyles and so that businesses could operate profitable green enterprises.

Greens believe that the government shouldn't participate directly in the market but only create the rules for it to operate in the public's interest. A Green government, for example, would not build wind turbines.  But it would end subsidies for dirty power and tax nonrenewable sources of energy so that individuals, churches, schools, businesses and coops could generate green power profitably.  A Green government would not legislate a ban on cars, but it would implement resource taxes that reflect the true cost of operating a personal automobile.  A similar argument can be made for ending sprawl, producing affordable housing, reducing pollution and transitioning to organic agriculture. When the market reflects the true costs of our activities, ecological actions save money.

The Green Party still espouses the goals of Canadian left, but it has incorporated key ideas from the Canadian right into its economic program as the best means to achieving those goals.  The Green Party is neither left, right, nor center. Greens are fiscally responsible, socially progressive and environmentally aware.  The Green Party is a new party for a new era in which the exploitation of the earth's people and resources are no longer tenable.  The Green Party doesn't care where it fits on the political  spectrum, but our goal is to get elected to address the ecological crisis.

16. Transportation:

de Jong - Transportation: The Ontario government's transportation planners have paid  little heed to the threat of climate change and the inevitable decline in oil production as the resource is depleted. Even with the knowledge that cars contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, and even with studies showing that children growing up within half a kilometre of expressways suffer permanent lung damage, Ontario continues to build 400-series highways and other car-dependent new construction. The GPO advocates walkable communities linked by efficient transit.

16. Patrick White in March 7, 2008 wrote: " In the next year or so, world oil production will peak and then promptly plummet, forced down by sinking reserves. While supply crashes, demand will grow. Virtually overnight, fuel will become so dear that farm tractors will go idle, people will go hungry and homes will go cold. Financial markets will collapse and social chaos will follow."

Do you agree with his scenario?

de Jong - It could potentially happen, yes. We should move to local agriculture as much as possible as fast as possible to avoid such a crisis.

Frank de Jong at the Brockville Farmers' Market

Frank de Jong,
Green Party of Ontario Leader

e-Mail:  fdejong@sympatico.ca
Phone: 416-559-6941
Web Site Address: www.gpo.ca


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