Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My hopes for Alberta

leadnow.ca asked its members to send letters to Rachel Notley, the new premier of Alberta. Here's mine.

Hi, my name is David. I have two things I want to say to the new NDP leadership.

First, please consider adding electoral reform to the agenda. It's always been difficult being a small party in a first-past-the-post electoral system. It's an unstable system that gave Wildrose more than double the amount of seats as PC (21-10) with fewer votes (24%-28%). It's a system that unjustly rewards largeness and unjustly penalizes smallness. And it's a system that makes many people (especially me!) feel as if their vote doesn't really matter. Now that you're suddenly the big party, you have a chance to set this right.

The federal NDP has come out in favor of a mixed-member proportional electoral system. While this is not my favorite system, it's a lot better than FPTP and I would support it gladly and eagerly. Now, I don't know if anyone cares what I think, but this blog post describes the voting system I would propose. It's simple, it makes sure every vote counts, and it gives voters a range of real, meaningful choices:


At the very least, you should simply remove one sentence from the ballot instructions. That's the sentence that says something like "Mark one box only, or your ballot will be spoiled." Remove this sentence, and we will have a (somewhat) superior electoral system called Approval Voting.

My second hope is that the NDP will move forward to combat climate change by supporting alternative forms of energy: wind and, more controversially, but still very important, molten salt nuclear reactors. Old-fashioned boiling water reactors are expensive and although they are statistically safer than oil and coal, they have a bad reputation.

I like to use an analogy with airplanes. Like nuclear energy, people have a fear of flying that is wildly out of proportion with the actual danger (or lack thereof). Yet somehow, people still decide to fly. And more importantly, from the perspective of cost, people don't go out to protest building airports near cities based on "safety concerns". When a plane crashes, people don't say "we need to stop building new and improved planes immediately! Let's just keep using the oldest, least safe ones! Maybe someday we'll stop using airplanes completely!" Yet somehow this is exactly what happens in the nuclear sector.

There are some fantastic nuclear reactor concepts out there, such as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). Designs like this are potentially both much cheaper, and much safer, than traditional reactors. And if Alberta is going to stop being a leading cause of climate change, it's going to need to replace the tar sands with something clean. The science is clear: much of the oil (to say nothing of the coal) must be left in the ground. By taking the lead in pursuing LFTR and other new reactor designs, perhaps Alberta can do that without destroying its own economy.

I know this is a hard problem for politicians to tackle. It'll be hard to blame you if you take the easy route and do nothing, or implement a half-hearted policy that steadfastly avoids using the "N" word. But please, this matter has been urgent for years, and only gets worse the longer we wait. I urge you to look for opportunities to lead a shift to cleaner energy.

LFTR in 5 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK367T7h6ZY