Author

Sarah Thomson

Browsing

IF I COULD WRITE MY FATHER…

I wrote a letter to my father when I was 15. It went something like this:

Dear Dad,

I’m traveling around Canada, meeting a lot of people and learning much more than I ever would in school.

You’re always telling me to write when I’m angry and I’m writing now, because I’m pissed off at you. The fight we had was the last straw and I just couldn’t take any more of you. Do you remember why you got mad at me? It was ridiculous! I was trying to type an essay for school and you came into the kitchen screaming that my “hammering on the keys” was unacceptable. When I screamed back, ripped up the essay and threw it at you, the look of shock that crossed your face was priceless.

It actually felt good to yell back at you; to defend myself and stand up to you for once. Part of me wishes I had stood up to you sooner. When I pointed out how awful you are to Peter – your own son – how you haven’t let a day go by without telling him how stupid he is, you looked truly surprised. I can’t believe that you were actually wondering why he’s such a fucked-up teenager!

After saying that I realized that for once you were listening to me. I left because I saw the acknowledgment on your face and the hurt in your eyes…

I didn’t know how to end that letter and never did end up sending it to my father.

I wrote it with a pen I’d stolen, along with $60 and a watch, from a nice chap who had invited me to his house party the previous night. I woke early that morning with a screaming hangover, but also with the relief one has when she realizes she is fully-clothed on the floor in a room full of snoring people. The man who owned the house was asleep in the bedroom, so I quietly sifted through his wallet, his dresser, and his bathroom, putting anything I could pawn into my pockets.

I went to a coffee shop and wrote that letter, but I didn’t know how to explain that I too was hurting; that my confidence was almost gone and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t justify my actions by telling myself that the world owed me something, because deep inside I knew that I owed the world. I couldn’t write about how the more I stole and cheated the more worthless I felt.

But life is full of change. Today as I look at my husband and son playing on the floor of our cottage, I wish so much that my father could have met them. The letter I’d write him would be so different from that one I wrote so many years ago. It would go something like this:

Dear Dad,

I want to thank you for being such a great father.

Thank you for the friendship that we were able to have. Thank you for that first time you picked up the phone and called me. I know that mom set you up to it, but I also know it was hard for you. I remember hanging up and crying because I was 22 years old and it was the first time you had ever called me. Dad, it meant a lot to me.

There are so many things that you taught me over the years. You taught me how to hold a hammer, how to use a skill saw, and a drill. You showed me that I could build things with my bare hands, and that I didn’t have to rely on anyone else. You encouraged me to write, to read, and to think. At times, when I’m struggling with some sort of challenge, I can hear your voice in my head saying, “Sarah, think. The answer is obvious.”

Dad, you taught me that I’m not always right. That looking for answers is always better than thinking I have them all.

I still remember the days and nights we spent in your hospital room. One day we spoke about life, and I was trying to picture you holding me as I child. I couldn’t remember what it felt like and realized that we had never hugged. When I got up to go home, I bent over and wrapped my arms around you. I thought you’d be stiff and awkward, but you held me tightly – we both knew that we didn’t have much time left.

If I could change anything in my past I would change my teenage years because I gave up the time I could have had with you. It’s the time, the conversations, and the way you had of making me believe I could do anything that I miss most.

You knew the importance of words; you knew their power and how to use them like knives, or like tools to build with. You weren’t perfect, but you tried to make up for your mistakes.

I learned so many things from you. Do you remember how we used to play chess? You taught me to play when I was only about eight years old, and you always won – right up until the very last game we played together, a couple of weeks before you died. I remember the moment that we both realized I had won. My eyes filled with tears. You knew I was worried sick about you, but you smiled and said, “Sarah it’s okay. You are going to be okay.”

Dad, I miss you so much…

THE PROPAGANDA AROUND NUCLEAR POWER

I received a letter commenting on a column I wrote a few weeks ago on the dangers and risks of nuclear power. The letter came from an employee at Ontario Power Generation (OPG) via their public affairs department. It made me realize the OPG is a bit sensitive to what their employees tell the public. And I wondered if they had censored the letter because it came across like company propaganda — spewing the words “safe and clean” like frisbees in a dog park.

The issue is that if an accident like the Chernobyl explosion were to occur at the Pickering power station, most, if not all, of the population of Toronto would die from radiation exposure and Toronto would be uninhabitable.

But the process of nuclear power generation does not create greenhouse gases and so the nuclear power supporters have jumped on this tidbit and sold it as the entire truth without acknowledging that the process of nuclear power generation includes the toxic waste it produces. To discount the waste when summing up nuclear power as “clean” is to create a false impression to the general public. The nuclear power generation process, from start to finish, is so toxic that it is lethal. To call it clean is to lie to the public.

Despite propaganda, the truth does eventually rise to the surface, and the truth is that the process of nuclear power generation creates the most damaging and toxic waste products of all of our energy sources to date. The other claim that the OPG and the Nuclear Power Association want the public to swallow is that nuclear power generation is safe. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to realize that creating toxic waste and storing it 50 kilometers from the largest city in Canada is NOT safe!

So why do they try so hard to put a positive spin on nuclear power? Nuclear is a huge industry that requires huge resources and, not surprisingly, it pays a lot of people very well — from the bankers financing it to the construction companies cashing in on it. I don’t think the people promoting nuclear today are tyrants or evil at heart, but I can’t think of even one true leader who stands out among them… they are a group of people thinking like middle managers — fighting for their livelihood and their belief that the vitality of Ontario’s economy is worth the risk of a catastrophe.

That there isn’t simply one person who is responsible for a possible disaster is what made nuclear power generation possible. The nuclear supporters know full well the outcome of a disaster; they know that the more complex a system is, the higher the likelihood of risk. But it is far easier for an impassioned group to risk everything than it is for one person to take responsibility for such a decision. That’s what the Nazi propaganda machine depended on — people hiding within a group, distorting the truth to serve their own purpose. Sure, one man started it but the group made it happen — and today the scary thing is that same group mentality is what the nuclear industry operates on.

Nuclear has proven that you don’t actually have to operate as a profitable business so long as you provide the energy the public demands. If renewable energy were to get the government backing it needs, it too wouldn’t have to be profitable. But I have an inkling that it would be, simply because the philosophy behind renewable energy is a good one.

I had another reader state that “nuclear will be the future.” Canada may have a lot of uranium now, but research estimates that our supplies will last 30 to 60 years, depending on use. This means that by the time all the upgrades and new nuclear installations are completed, there will not actually be any uranium to run them. So to say that nuclear will be the way of the future misses the fact that there isn’t a future for nuclear.

Today almost 51% of the power used in Ontario comes from nuclear power generation. Without it the OPG wouldn’t have a hope in hell of filling the public demand and black-outs across the province would occur. And the government responsible for stopping them would lose public support immediately. So the impetus to change isn’t going to come from the government.

Change has to start here, in the public realm; it starts with me writing about the truth; it starts with others debating the issues. Change starts with the banker who decides to support the solar company looking for capital. Change starts with each and every one of us learning the truth and placing value on it. What are you, on a personal level, going to do?

My suggestion? Switch to bullfrog power. The company was created to divert hydro payments away from nuclear and coal to clean renewable energy sources. By signing up you virtually pay a fee to make sure that your payment for the energy you use each month goes directly to clean, renewable energy sources. You can find them atwww.bullfrogpower.com

LIFE IS LIFE

With Mother’s Day just around the corner the focus of this issue is on choice. I’ve asked columnists to offer their thoughts regarding the right of a mother to choose to abort her pregnancy. It is a controversial topic to be sure, and one that will likely never be settled.

I have trouble with both sides of the abortion debate because I don’t believe anyone can truly know where life begins. Both sides try to
explain what is impossible to know with certainty, and both define it absolutely. There is only one thing I know with absolute certainty
and that is that change will occur. I know without a doubt that this moment, as I type, will never occur again because change, no matter
how infinitesimal, will happen. Sometimes I think that this is what life is all about – a series of changes that we humans try to understand, define and control. But change is what happens in your life, or to your life. It is a process, not a definition. With motherhood I thought I might gain a bit of understanding, at the very least of when life begins, but after two children I’m less certain than ever. When I think of my pregnancies I can’t place exactly when I felt like the tiny thing growing inside me actually became a life – in my mind. It wasn’t when I saw the image of the tiny pea-sized embryo on my ultra-sound – something about it didn’t seem real. Perhaps, it was when I felt that first kick.

I wonder if the hormones coursing through my veins during those first few months of my pregnancies stopped me from connecting
to the baby inside me. I remember feeling that I had to find a name for it in order to make it feel more alive to me. But maybe, it is a protection mechanism Mother Nature planted in me. I’m well aware that the chance of miscarriage is extremely high in the first few months and my brain may have been stopping me from connecting.

The thing about being a mother is that at some point during your pregnancy you become crucially aware that you are not alone. It is the point when the alien form inside finally connects with your mind and becomes a tiny person that will one day be walking, talking and breathing. That point of awareness may be enhanced by the belly touches and encouraging words of friends and family, or it may come from the hormones raging through you; but whichever it is there is definitely a point, months prior to the birth of your child, when one knows without a doubt that you are merely the custodian of an independent life inside your body. It is at that point, that moment of recognition that a mother can never go back. I don’t believe science or religion can define when that point is. I think it rests in the individual, but I believe that if a mother decides to abort her pregnancy after she has experienced that moment of recognition, she also bankrupts her morality, because that is the point for her at which abortion becomes murder.

I don’t find much value in the “life” theories the old boys in Rome came up with, or for that matter a lot of the theories surrounding evolution. But I’m not a theologian or a scientist. What I do know is that words can be twisted and that people are forever using them to serve one purpose or another. When anti-abortionists judge and scorn people they ignore one of the most basic ethical principles – in religion and civil society – that of compassion. But then when pro-abortionists insist that abortion should be available to all, they ignore the fact that there is a point in a woman’s pregnancy when abortion becomes murder and at that point no mother is without guilt.

My two little ones are finally asleep. I wonder when they will begin to recognize the value of life. I suppose one day they’ll ask me how it all began, not just their life, but what came before them and before me and before everything. That is one question that I won’t be able to answer and one that I hope my kids will never be smug enough to think they know.

THE NUCLEAR POWER SCANDAL

While the media focuses on greenhouse gases, global warming, and clean air, possibly the most devastating, and costly threat to the environment slides stealthily under the radar. Radioactive waste produced by 16 Canadian nuclear reactors is still stored on-site, which means, for example, that the waste at Pickering is accumulating in a toxic, radioactive cesspool surrounded by concrete, less than 50 kilometers from the largest city in Canada.

Ontario Power Genera-tion (OPG) is storing – and has done so for more than 4 decades – one of the most lethal and toxic wastes ever created, right here in our backyards, primarily because they have no idea what to do with it.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why our government continually chooses to back nuclear power, when what the public ultimately wants is renewable energy. As a business investment, nuclear continually underperforms. In fact, when all costs (including disposal of toxic waste) are taken into consideration, the price of nuclear escalates to such a degree that it makes a bad business investment. Private investors have stayed completely away from the nuclear power industry since its inception. But I think there is much more at play than meets the public eye. Both the history of power generation and the politics surrounding alternative energy in this country play a huge part.

The history of the OPG is one filled with grand schemes promoted by power-hungry (excuse the pun) tyrants relying on an atmosphere of desperation and stupidity.

In the 1970s Ontario decided to base its future on nuclear energy. My guess is that the Nuclear Power Association presented a sly, polished, and legitimate-sounding “business” model to a government frustrated by environmental lobbyists pressuring it to stop building hydro facilities.

Nuclear sold itself then as it does today – as a “clean” alternative with little impact on the environment. Prop-aganda has a way of slithering into popular culture, distorting the truth, and the machine behind the nuclear movement is well oiled. Over time, as the actual costs have surfaced, nuclear proves to be far more expensive than estimated. One can only hope that the environmental risks haven’t been severely underestimated as well.

Today there are only a few environmentalists in Canada who have managed to build successful businesses in the energy industry, and I imagine that in the 1970s they were virtually non-existent and probably half stoned. It’s one thing to be an environmentalist and an entirely different thing to run a reliable energy company capable of providing a necessity to thousands of Canadians. The government then didn’t have much choice but to accept the recommendations of Ontario Hydro (now OPG) and hope for the best.

Last year’s Pembina Report estimated that “About 85,000 used fuel bundles are generated every year by Canadian nuclear reactors.” It goes on to explain that, “When a spent fuel rod is removed from a CANDU nuclear reactor, it is extremely radioactive: an unprotected person standing within a metre of such a bundle would die within an hour.”

Although radioactivity decreases with time, it takes about one million years for the level of radioactivity of spent fuel to return to that of natural uranium. Used nuclear fuel also has the potential to release chemically toxic elements, including heavy metals.

With so much focus put on clean air and greenhouse gases, nuclear power provides little more than a simulacrum offering a quick, expensive, and non-renewable stopgap. What’s needed now are a few good ideas, accompanied by some great business plans, and some savvy business types to implement them with the same amount of support and backing this government is giving to the nuclear power industry.

THE VALUE OF VISION

My two-year-old son woke me early this morning. He placed his hand on my cheek and, when I opened my eyes, his nose was almost touching mine. When our eyes met he whispered “hi mummy,” softly with a tenderness that melted away any thoughts of sending him back to his bed. He is learning the value of tenderness, learning that the way he speaks and what he says has a direct effect on how others treat him. He is learning the art of manipulation.

I’ve just finished taking the MBA Essentials for Managers course at Rotman Business School. The course fired up my desire to learn and grow, particularly the class on negotiation taught by Glen Whyte. What I came away with was the idea that good negotiation isn’t about winning or losing, but about creating a contract that allows both sides to benefit from the relationship like a good marriage.

Jim Fisher also gave a great lecture on leadership, using a speech from Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth. The speech demonstrates how Henry is able to convince his men to fight although all the odds are against them, how he motivates and manipulates them using everything from honour to promises of infamy. A good leader must be good at managing, motivating and leading. They must carry out a plan, but be able to maneuver in a consistently changing environment. What is important is not sticking to the plan but sticking to the vision. A leader must live up to their value system in order to inspire those who follow them. It was interesting to learn that ethical values can have much more influence over people than money.

And today I think about the vision for the Women’s Post. Our vision is to inspire as many women as we can to be all they can be. Our strategy reflects this vision and so too do the people I work with. Now as a leader I must stick to my values. I must motivate the people I work with and adapt plans easily to the changes we encounter, and at all times I must stick to our vision.
Vision without a task is only a dream. A task without a vision is but drudgery. But vision with a task is a dream fulfilled.

Recommended Reading:

Willie Stone Sixtyfive Roses, a Sister’s Memoir by Heather Summerhayes Cariou had me in tears by the second page. The story is about how and why her parents founded the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. But it is also about the bond between two sisters, and how illness changes the way a family lives and magnifies each moment.

Welcome

We welcome Sandra Martin, Heather Mallick and Elizabeth Nickson to our roster of columnists. They are three very intelligent women who say what they think with eloquence and style. I’m looking forward to some very interesting discussion and debate in the coming months.

THOUGHTS AND IDEAS

Monday

My office is filled with sunlight. I came in early today to get a head start on answering email and returning messages. Nobody is in yet and it seems so [quite] QUIET. I love the fast pace of the office when things get hectic on deadline day, but I also love moments like this. I wander around and notice that someone has hung a new map on the wall for the salespeople to use. I see that my great assistant has organized all the back issues of the paper onto shelves and labeled them. Someone else has a picture of their wife on his screensaver. I notice that every desk has something personal on it that distinguishes them. Someone has taken the little toy animals that sit on my book shelf and put them in a compromising position. There are some things people do simply to cause a smile ― I’m glad I work with people who do those sorts of things.

Tuesday

Went to my first MBA Essentials for Managers course tonight at Rotman Business School. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy school. Tonight the focus was on design thinking. Heather Fraser took the class through a crash course on the value of design as a means to “unlocking breakthrough strategies and ideas…” We covered some of the design tools that can be used to set up, grow and analyse a company. Fraser demonstrated how to create a strategic business design in order to understand the key elements that drive a company to success. As we spoke I doodled out a strategic business design for this newspaper and the act of simply writing down all the important elements that go into the end product made me focus on how important our distribution is to our brand identification as well as our advertising revenue stream. I must broaden our reach and get the street boxes out as soon as possible.

We’ve had success with every major city but Toronto. We have waited more than 2 years to get licences for newspaper boxes from the city of Toronto but have had nothing but roadblocks put up. At this point I’m wondering if we should take legal action. I can’t understand why the Toronto Sun can have a box on all four corners of an intersection but the Women’s Post is not allowed to have even one box.

Wednesday

I’m feeling guilty today. Guilty for driving to work when I could have easily walked; guilty for turning on the lights, for buying my latte, for consuming like most other North Americans. Global warming is real and yet I continue to go about my life, giving little thought to finding the answer to the energy crisis. If not me then who?

Thursday

We had our first advisory board meeting for the Women’s Post today and I was awed by the number of great ideas that were discussed. Having the time to think, talk and strategize with a number of very intelligent people felt like a great luxury. Each one of them gave their best ideas and their time and for that I will always be thankful. Time is something one can never get back, but I must say that those first few hours spent strategizing on the direction of this newspaper were some of the most productive hours I have had in a long time.

I had another MBA Essentials for Managers course at Rotman Business School tonight and this time the focus was on negotiation. The instructor was thorough and interesting. He had us break into pairs and role play while negotiating an employment contract. It is something I do frequently and the structure emphasized creating a winning situation for both parties so that the actual outcome would create the best situation possible. I didn’t realize that the things I do by gut instinct can be abstracted into a theory.

Friday

One of my favourite journalists, Heather Mallick, has joined the Women’s Post. I find both her intellect and comical outlook inspiring. Last summer, she wrote a short sentence in an email that filled me with awe. While commenting on the heat she wrote, “the spiders are dripping from my windows.” Lines like that are few and far between and when you come across them they stick with you.

MAY WE HAVE THE COURAGE TO CHANGE

Change. Why do so many people fear it? When I was in my teens I hoped for change, in my 20s I counted on it and now, in my late 30s with two children and a loving husband, I shudder, just a little, before opening my eyes to see which direction it will take me.

I’ve always believed that life is about navigating through change with honour and facing adversity and opportunity with courage.

And today change is at the very root of the debate on global warming.

There are two opposing scientific theories to global warming. In one camp are the scientists who believe that C02 levels are contributing to global warming. Quite simply put, C02 traps the sun’s rays in the atmosphere, which causes the earth to warm up. This view is advanced in Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth. Temperature and C02 graphs, created from ice core samples, are linked, showing that they rise and fall together. The problem is that the ice core samples demonstrate that C02 increases actually follow temperature increases – at times they even lag 200 to 400 years behind temperature increases. Despite this, Gore insists that man-made increases in C02 will contribute significantly to global warming.

In the other camp are the scientists who disagree and believe that solar flares have far more impact on global warming. Solar flares create a wind that deflects cosmic rays from entering the Earth’s atmosphere where they meet water vapour and form clouds. More solar activity creates more of this solar wind and leads to less cloud formation. Without as much cloud cover, the Earth’s surface heats up. They conclude that humans actually have little to do with global warming. This view is reflected in the movie The Great Global Warming Swindle. The problem with this view is that the data for solar activity doesn’t go back very far and it seems relatively unreliable.

But while both camps believe that the Earth is warming, the most important issue is: Can we do anything about it?
What interests me is how the “climate crisis” looks through the eyes of the economists.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is a report Sir Nicholas Stern released in 2006. The report supports the belief that C02 is causing global warming and it looks at what needs to be done to adapt to climate change: This is the part that matters most. Ignoring the fact that the Earth is warming will eventually damage economic growth no matter what the cause. The report insists that: “Adaptation to climate change – taking steps to build resilience and minimize costs – is essential.”

And it also looks at the need to develop new forms of energy technology. The report suggests that “Action on climate change will also create significant business opportunities as new markets are created in low-carbon energy technologies and other low-carbon goods and services.”

A home-grown green industry propelled by political activists who have turned one theory on climate change into a political ideology might be the beginning of a huge economic shift, or it could simply be the development of a new industry. Obviously, the “huge economic shift” is what people fear most. An environmental mandate in Canada could hinder our ability to compete on a global level, but then too it could also create so much economic activity here that it strengthens us globally.

The energy industry has the most to gain and, I suppose, the most to lose from the environmental movement. Both oil and uranium are finite resources, but long before they run out, the prices will go up, as is happening now. Over the years, as supplies diminish and prices increase, alternative sources of energy will become more and more viable and eventually oil and uranium will run out. It won’t happen today or tomorrow, but may happen in my children’s lifetime; which means that the seeds for alternative energy need to be planted now so that my children can enjoy the same quality of life that I have today.

The one fact that I am sure of is that the Earth is warming and – even if this wasn’t caused by C02 – there will be serious repercussion. Instead of arguing over the cause, it’s time to stand up and face the future.

Sarah Thomson’s views on global warming are constantly changing.

MOTIVATED MEDIA MOGULS

When I think of what motivates me, I think of my husband, my children, and my desire to do something significant with my life. Motivation is defined as “having the desire and willingness to do something.” It can come from others who inspire you, but in the end I believe it comes from within. I’m motivated to make this newspaper into the best publication in Canada, but when I ask myself why, it comes down to some very personal reasons.

Tonight I am watching the news of the Conrad Black trial. Two weeks ago I shared a drink with him in his study. He is the only person in Canada who has started a national newspaper; the only one who knows and understands the hurdles I face. What I learned over the evening is that he has one of the keenest minds I’ve ever come across, and he doesn’t shy away from using it. We discussed the media industry; we discussed his latest book on Nixon (soon to be released); and we discussed lawyers, architects, and leaders of the land who are critical of him, but have their own skeletons.

What touched me most, aside from his amazing vocabulary, was his willingness to pass on what he has learned. I think what motivates him is the desire to matter, to do something significant with his life, to leave his mark on history.

I too want to do something that makes a difference. Real failure is to live a life that doesn’t contribute to the world. No one would dispute that the media has a lot of power over public opinion, and I hope to use whatever influence we garner with this newspaper to inspire women to be all they can be. I believe that women are causing huge changes in society; more focus is now placed on issues that women feel strongly about. If I can help push that momentum forward, help get women’s views to the forefront of the decision-making process, I think I will have achieved something with my life.

As my children grow I realize how much they learn from me. My two-year-old now walks around repeating everything I say – the bad and the good. I must set an example, teach them to give back to the world, as my parents taught me. But what motivates me to do this is my own mortality. The only way I will live on is in passing my values, ideas, and knowledge to my children.

Motivation – It comes from a deep awareness and understanding of our own mortality.

*****

This issue marks the first issue that we will distribute through our new pink newspaper street boxes. The boxes allow us to reach many more women than ever before. They put us out on the streets where newspapers compete side by side. It will be interesting to see how many more readers we attract through them.

I encourage you to enter our pink box launch contest atwww.womenspost.ca. Simply click on the pink newspaper box on our website. We have a number of great prizes and you’ll get a chance to win tickets to our exclusive launch party at the end of March. Join me with over 150 key media celebrities, columnists, and some of the most accomplished women in the country.

ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP

Growing up on a farm taught me to see the world as a treasure – a gift to be treated with great care and respect. It was there that I learned to appreciate the fragile quality in the beauty of nature. And it was there that I first looked at a drop of dew on a blade of grass, and listened for the individual voice of a cricket on a hot summer night.

Over the years my concern for the environment has grown stronger. My last few editorials on global warming have generated numerous letters from both the left and the right. The left felt I needed to be more extreme in stating there was an actual crisis. While Conservatives didn’t feel that I spoke enough about the economy and the issue we now face in trying to meet the Kyoto targets. But the issue is more complex than simply stating that the Liberals procrastinated for so long that reaching Kyoto targets is impossible.

Energy is a cost and businesses know this. When the price of energy went up, companies looked at becoming more efficient. Consumption has gone down but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The true issue at hand is leadership. If Steven Harper is serious about the environment than he has to do more then just complain about the previous government. He’s had over a year to work on this. He needs to turn the environment issue away from focusing on impossible targets and create attainable ones. Any good business leader knows that without targets no-thing gets done. But when it comes to the environment, lea-dership has to come from all sectors.

Harper is not a fool; he knows the same business leaders I do and they aren’t evil, scheming, men wanting to destroy the world. Many of them care very much about the environment. The most important thing that the business leaders I’ve spoken with want is action – they want policies designed to address the environment, policies that create a level playing field in their industries.

The second issue around the climate crisis is strategic, it involves risk analysis. What is the best means to reduce emissions? Will legislation to reduce emissions actually be as effective dollar for dollar as investing in energy efficiency? This is where I believe the business community needs to take the lead; this is where trial and error will happen. When it comes to change, government always lags behind and business always seems to take the lead. Take the example of Dofasco – not only have they cleaned up their emissions, but they have exceeded Kyoto targets.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) has formed a group of lead a task force to achieve a national consensus on the reduction of greenhouse gases. This may be the quickest route to at least trying to meet some of our Kyoto commitments.

ONTARIO HYDRO: SIMPLY SHOCKING

Former Hydro One CEO Tom Parkinson’s alleged business expense transgressions and his resulting ouster may have made great political fodder for the government and opposition parties at Queen’s Park and the media who cover the pink palace, but it did nothing to resolve one of the most serious challenges facing our province and its communities – the lack of sustainable hydro-electric power.
Parkinson may be gone, but the lack of a made-in-Ontario power generation solution persists, with little or no thoughtful debate underway in the legislature to resolve it and no significant infrastructure investments on the horizon to sustain it.

All Parkinson’s dismissal did was validate recent criticism leveled by Hydro watchers that when it comes to developing and executing a plan that sustains Ontario’s most important economic development asset – available, reliable and affordable hydro-electric, power – Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Minister of Energy, Dwight Duncan, aren’t up to the job.

To give credit where it’s due, former Premier Mike Harris acknowledged this and developed a plan to privatize the utility, thus keeping it out of reach of the pol-iticians and bureaucrats at Queen’s Park. While Harris had the right idea, the crown-corporation-to-private-entity handoff was mishandled.

As a result, the new hydro organizations are neither fish nor fowl. They are subjected almost daily to inconsistent direction from Queen’s Park on everything from rates, future generation tech-nologies, infrastructure investments and the make-up of the various boards of directors.

I had the privilege to serve three years on the board of a local hydro utility. Based on my experiences at that level and what I was exposed to at a provincial level, I can assure you that few if any politicians or bureaucrats at Queen’s Park are qualified to manage what is easily the most financially and operationally sophisticated entity in the province. Ontario’s hydro generation service deserves – and requires – professional management that operates outside of the influence of the Government of Ontario.

Parkinson was removed because he was becoming increasingly and openly critical of political interference by McGuinty and Duncan, both of whom would prefer that Ontario’s energy service revert back to a classic Crown Cor-poration. As Parkinson told Energy Probe’s Tom Adams in an illuminating piece Adams authored for the National Post last Dec. 21, “Hydro One is too complex, too valuable and too important to the Ontario economy to be in government hands. Career politicians and me-diocre ex-CEOs are not up to the complex challenge of running companies like these. The price of chronic government interference is enormous.”

The price of that interference is as follows: long-term debt approaching $30 billion, consumer rates that don’t yet represent the true cost of hydro generation but are high nonetheless, and the lack of a hydro generation direction for the future – or a made-in-Ontario backup plan in the event of the failure today of one or more generating stations.

The combination of high debt load and below-cost rates makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Ontario Hydro’s successor organizations to build a sustainable energy infrastructure program for the future. In my view, there are no options other than to retrace steps taken towards privatization by the Harris government and properly implement that original plan. Ontario needs private sector management – and investment – to achieve sustainable, made-in-Ontario hydro-electric generation.

Don’t expect resolution of either the governance question or the future generation strategy until after October, 2007, when Ontarians go to the polls to elect a new government. Until then, let’s hope these are the only hydro matters that remain shrouded in darkness.

John B. Challinor is a communications expert and former city councilor.