Rally for Canada budget consultation survey results

On Friday, I sent out an email to the tens of thousands on the Rally for Canada email list asking them to participate in a small survey concerning the upcoming federal budget.? I asked people four questions concerning the government spending and their public policy priorities.? Over three thousand people responded on Friday and over the weekend.? I will be passing on the results to the office of the Minister of Finance as promised.

Q: On the question of Canada’s upcoming federal budget to get us through the economic crisis, which balance within the following options do you think is best for the government to implement? (n=3003)

Q: Which issues are most important to you from a government policy point of view? (n=3051)

Here is the same graph sorted in descending order (n=3051):

Q: What should be done with the Senate? (n=3007)

Q: What should be done with funding for the CBC? (n=2998)

Some notes: “n” is the number of respondents to each question.? Data was gathered from 8am Friday through midnight Sunday night.? Sample data is gathered from a population set that registered on the anti-coalition website RallyforCanada.ca between December 4th 2008 and January 9th 2009.? Answers were not randomly cycled.

That said, this data gives us insight into the priorities of Canadians who are against the concept of a Bloc-supported NDP-Liberal coalition government.? The first question was a careful balance on both sides of the spending vs. taxes debate.? On one hand, the answer set does not include an option to decrease spending and on the other, four out of five answers prompt at least some tax relief.? Most analysts believe that the federal budget will include some tax relief and stimulus in the form of government spending.? The largest group believed a balance spending/tax relief approach would be best while the second largest group favours substantial tax relief and no new spending (given the options presented).

The second question had 24 options.? Each option was a yes/no checkbox to pick public policy priorities.? There was little surprise on the distribution of public policy interests as the generally right-of-centre respondents selected jobs, economy, crime, tax cuts, healthcare choice, and military spending as priorities while passing on foreign aid, culture and arts, and native affairs.? Wheat board reform is generally a conservative priority yet this question is likely too regional for a national survey.

On the specific questions, it is of particular interest that 90% of respondents believe that the Senate in it’s current form must change.? Only 10% of respondents thought that the Senate ought to be left as it is.? On the question of spending for a particular budget item, respondents indicated that funding for the CBC should be decreased (61%) while only 6% thought it should be increased.

The language of energy politics

Consider this news item that aired on Citytv (Toronto) on August 11th. It concerns the Ontario NDP’s energy plan going into the next election.

A couple of things about this video made me want to highlight it here.

First, the obvious laughs including bongos at an NDP rally and Jack Layton’s boastful speaking style (Maclean’s recently highlighted a study that had Canadians comparing Layton to a friendly dog if he were an animal. If Layton were a musical instrument, I think he’d be a weathered trumpet).

Moving away from musical analogies to those of energy and power (which during the piece were interesting and sometimes clever), the second item I wanted to highlight was this awkward phrase which caught my attention:

“[The NDP’s plans aims] to dramatically reduce hydro consumption here in Ontario while promoting renewable energy sources”

The last time I checked hydro electricity meant electricity derived from moving water and this form of energy production is certainly a “renewable energy source”.

Of course, the true meaning is probably closer to the reality that “hydro” has become something of common parlance in Ontario, a slang replacement for “electricity”; when we talk our electricity use, we talk about the “hydro bill”.

On closer inspection however, if we look at Ontario’s electricity mix, we discover that 22.3% of our energy comes from hydro electricity, while the lion’s share (54.1%) comes from “clean”, non-renewable but abundant nuclear energy. In fact, if we don’t include “other” (1.2%), Ontario’s GHG-emitting electricity production (from coal and gas) amounts to 22.4%. So, when we talk about “hydro consumption” as an interchangeable term for “electricity consumption”, the substitution lacks a bit of parity.

If we combine nuclear and hydro, we get 76.4% “clean” and “green” energy mix in Ontario.

How can we increase the proportion of “green” energy to Ontario’s mix? We can increase nuclear output, tap a few more rivers/waterfalls and we can focus on increasing the “other” category which includes building more windmills and solar farms to take that 1.2% to, well, more.

Originally thinking that the NDP had made a gaffe by calling for the reduction of “hydro” in place for “renewable sources”, I checked their website to discover that their “green” energy plan actually rails against nuclear energy in favour for “publicly owned and publicly controlled electricity”. Oh, and renewable? Yes, they eventually talk about the need for that too.

But what is “renewable”? Concerning what we’ll discover to be a positive but ambiguous word, on “renewable” the Ontario government states:

“The Ontario government is committed to the development of new renewable sources of electricity generation. The government has set a goal of five per cent of all generating capacity in the province to come from renewable sources by 2007 and 10 per cent by 2010.”

Is hydro not a “renewable” source of energy?

I certainly can understand the need for overall reduction of consumption (ie. a decrease in “hydro” electricity consumption), but Ontario’s electricity generation mix is quite healthy and the plan to bring more nuclear energy online is an efficient and positive one when it comes to cost and benefit to the environment and the people of Ontario, respectively.

Is nuclear not a “green” form of energy?

Massive amounts of energy are derived from the nanoscopic scale of a nuclear fission reaction. In fact, it’s among the reasons why the discovery was so revolutionary. Worries of meltdown are virtually a thing of the past with CANDU reactors being specifically designed with critical fail-safes. The storage of the waste material produced is on a much smaller scale, yet detractors of nuclear energy will describe the production method as “unclean” whereas promoters might be quick to correct and call it “clean but imperfectly so”. Solar energy is still at a point where the energy vs. the cost of implementing the technology is break-even over a solar-cell lifetime (production and use) of 25 years. Granted, investment is needed to drive down the production cost (via economies of scale). Comparatively, wind power requires large use of materials, over long periods of time to derive comparatively paltry levels of electricity.

Nuclear is efficient has little environmental impact. Why do self-proclaimed environmental activists rally against it?

From an engineering perspective, we want select methods of energy production that maximizes output, minimizes cost and minimizes waste. From a political perspective, politicians balance the minimization of cost with that of waste, depending on the perspectives of the electorate to which they pontificate.

On this point therefore, success is in communication, but unfortunately the language of energy politics can be redundant and even misleading when it comes to “renewable” sources of energy, “green” and “clean” electricity and even when it comes to the word “hydro”. I imagine that as we get closer to October’s provincial election, while the facts of energy production will remain the same, the language of political communication will gather more smog.