What are the critical areas? Where should we focus? These are very important questions. We are a new party, and our organizational capacity does have limits. We can't do everything all at once, so we need to make some wise strategic choices. What are the areas where the Green voice is most needed?
I believe that the following four issues are where the Green Party can have immediate beneficial impact on the policies of government: heating, electricity, uranium mining, and local (organic) food.
This issue could easily become a deciding factor in the next election. The majority of Nova Scotian homes are heated with oil. Currently, the price of heating oil is sitting at twice what it was this time last year. If that trend continues, how are people going to heat their homes this winter? If heating bills are twice what they were last winter, there will be a lot of desperate people in our province with very difficult choices to make.
We need to approach this issue from a few directions. First, we need to speak up about this possibility over the summer, and raise the alarm about what could be a quickly developing crisis. Second, we need to draw attention to the structural reasons for the crisis: reliance on fossil fuels. We have to emphasize the fact that depending on unsustainable systems for our basic needs can only cause us pain in the long run. And we need to put forward policies that government can adopt to speed the switch to sustainability. This means tax breaks or subsidies for green renovations, regulations about new construction, and things of that nature.
Thirdly, we need a plan to help those who will be hardest hit in the case of massive heating bills this winter. This is a delicate issue for us. We don't want to be subsidizing fossil fuel heat, but we have to do something in the short term to assist those in need. Therefore I support some kind of short term heating oil tax break, subsidy, or refund for lower income Nova Scotians. Yet this always has to be framed as a short term, one time situation in the case of an emergency. The only lasting solution is to move away from dependence on fossil fuels.
Our coal based electricity is a hazard in terms of fossil fuel dependence, and in terms of vastly irresponsible levels of CO2 emissions. It does not have to be this way. Nova Scotia has incredible potential for renewable electricity generation from wind, tides, sun, waves, and biomass. We need policies that quickly encourage the development of these resources, and the move away from coal.
The first crucial step is to decouple the transmission grid from the electricity monopoly of Nova Scotia Power. Right now it is not legal to sell meaningful quantities of renewable energy through the grid, unless you've gone through the NS Power tendering process. This is shameful. Our grid is an essential part of our infrastructure, and if a rural farmer wants to sell wind power to her neighbours or to urban Nova Scotians, we simply have to have a system in place to allow her to do this. This is the essential first step to developing a thriving renewable energy sector in our province.
The Green Party should be one of the voices strongly against uranium mining in Nova Scotia. I think the policy response is very straightforward: it should be illegal to extract uranium from the soil and the rock of our province for the purposes of commercial sale.
We need to find ways of supporting our local farmers and food producers. Local food is healthier, fresher and more reliable than produce that has been trucked in. I am not against a global food trade. There is nothing wrong in principle with eating canned pineapple produced in Thailand, or with Nova Scotian food products being exported to other markets. But our reliance on industrial agricultural methods that require huge inputs of fertilizer, pesticides, and fossil fuel for transportation worries me greatly. We don't need to grow everything that we eat, but I believe that we need to nurture our small farmers so that we have a much stronger baseline of reliable, local, healthy food. Food that we can depend on for real nourishment, and trust it will be available to us even in volatile global food markets.