Threat of separation led to a superior immigration system

No federal government likes to give up control but in the case of immigration, it’s worked out for the best.

image: Study International

Our immigration system is admired globally. Canada has largely avoided the divisive immigration debates that have plagued our close allies: the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia.

A Gallup poll shows that Canada is more welcoming to immigrants than any other country in the world.

Decentralization of immigration began in 1991 with Quebec’s demands to have more control over French-speaking immigrants in order to better integrate them into Quebec’s distinct society.

The federal government, worried about Quebec separation, acquiesced to Quebec’s demands. Ottawa still controlled family sponsorships, refugee migration, and ensured that newcomers passed health and security screenings. But other than that, Quebec could create its own system and decide how many new immigrants to accept each year.

Then the me-too effect kicked in. Once Quebec had some control of immigration, other provinces wanted it. Ottawa was happy to give up some control to provinces because, at the same time in the nineties, Ottawa was going through a debt crisis and was happy to transfer those costs to the provinces.

So, in 1996, the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) was created. The federal government would retain the rights it had in Quebec’s case but the provinces would design the programs themselves and much of the work -and cost- would be borne by the provinces.

Under the PNP, employers and postsecondary institutions with the cooperation of the provinces, would select applicants.

The provincial programs offered an easier route to permanent residency than federal programs did.

Critics argued that the PNP would be a disaster. Employers, provinces, and postsecondary institutions, they argued, didn’t have national interests at heart. And they don’t have the expertise to support language skills and integration of newcomers. Those who ran the immigration programs were often unskilled and open to fraud.

Another criticism of the PNP was that Immigrants could shop around for provinces that offered the best entry programs and then move to wherever it suited them.

At first, it was so. Big cities attracted immigrants because of their existing multiethnic communities where newcomers share the same languages and observe the same customs.  Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver were often the final destinations because they already had networks of friends and family to help them launch a Canadian life.

As a result, only 28 percent of nominated immigrants to Prince Edward Island since 2008 were still living there. Manitoba did better, retaining 84 per cent. The difference, says Kelly Toughill in her feature-length article, was each program’s ability to support newcomers (the Walrus, May, 2021).

But despite initial problems, decentralization of immigration has successfully continued with groups like the non-profit Kamloops Immigrant Services. The Canadian Labour Congress is now controlling some phases of immigration to fill the looming construction labour shortage.

The number of localized immigration programs has swelled to more than 100 scattered from coast to coast to coast.

Canada now has one of the most complex immigration systems in the world.

Flexibility means that provinces and agencies design programs attract who they want, where they want.

Our complex immigration system has also resulted in the highest public support for immigration of any country in the world. And it’s why Canada is winning the global competition for labour.

Languishing: the malaise of our pandemic times

Our journey through this pandemic is unprecedented in modern times.

image: NBC News

We won’t know what the exact effects of the pandemic will be until it’s over.

Meanwhile, psychologists suggest that if we can find words that describe how we feel now it helps us cope; words like “grief” and “languishing.”

I thought it might be helpful if I could find the expanded use of commons words during the last pandemic of 1918. But I couldn’t.

Instead, I did find some technical terms in the aftermath of the Spanish Flu epidemic. We know that fifty million people died globally in four waves during the pandemic. And, similar to this third wave of this COVID pandemic, it hit young people hard. Many died within three days of showing symptoms.

One diagnosis from the Spanish flu pandemic was “encephalitis lethargica.” It was characterized by excessive sleepiness, abnormal eye movements, fever, and movement disorders, although virtually no neurological sign or symptom could be found. The chronic phase was characterized by Parkinson-like signs that could last months, even a year, after the pandemic ended.

“Grief” is one of those words for which the meaning can be expanded to describe the way we now feel. One dictionary meaning is: “deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.” But more recently, the definition of grief has been expanded to mean “mourning the loss of normalcy.” Psychologist Adam Grant says that the expanded meaning of grief gives a sense of familiarity:

“[The expanded meaning of grief] gave us a familiar vocabulary to understand what had felt like an unfamiliar experience. Although we hadn’t faced a pandemic before, most of us had faced loss. It helped us crystallize lessons from our own past resilience — and gain confidence in our ability to face present adversity (New York Times, May 4).”

Languishing is another useful word. Dictionary meanings include: to be or become feeble, weak, as in Plants languish in the drought. Adam Grant expands the definition:

“It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.”

Languishing is the “blah” feeling we have during the pandemic.

I originally read Adam Grant’s column in the New York Times after my cousin sent me a link. She added: “I think these days I’m languishing. Seems I’m putting in time until we can travel and see people again. Melancholy isn’t the right word.”

Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of your drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.

If this pandemic is like the last, we will experience depression and anxiety disorders for years, even if we aren’t suffering from symptoms today.

B.C. needs a Consent and Capacity Board to prevent seniors’ loss of liberty

Unlike Ontario, B.C. doesn’t have a Consent and Capacity Board. That means seniors, or in fact anyone, can be deemed unfit and their lives handed over to the state.

And while there are good reasons why some persons should be deemed unfit in the management of their affairs, there is little recourse once it’s done.

Once a person is declared unfit, a “certificate of incapability” is issued and their assets seized.

The prospect that I could lose my autonomy, and be institutionalized with little recourse, is not what I imagine my “golden years” to be like.

But that’s what happened to Muriel Shaw, in her eighties, of Coquitlam, B.C. It began when her son Jarvis was concerned for her health and took her to the hospital. Jarvis thought his mom didn’t seem herself: she was anxious and confused—“just acting strange (Walrus, March, 2020).”

Hospital staff decided to give her a “capacity assessment”: a common evaluation administered to people who seem disoriented. The assessment consists of questions like, “What is today’s date?” and “What problems are you having right now?”

Muriel failed the assessment. She was deemed to be incapable of making her own decisions and a certificate of incapability was issued.  From that moment on, Muriel Shaw’s autonomy was taken away for good.

A capacity assessment is an imprecise instrument considering the consequences -robbing someone of their liberty. You can take my temperature to see if I have a fever but no capacity assessment can accurately measure my ability to manage my own affairs.

And even if my ability could be accurately measured, it would be essentially a medical evaluation. A medical evaluation should not have legal consequences in the seizure of my property and assets.

A condition of anxiety and confusion can be temporary. Muriel, living alone and survivor of breast cancer, could have had some treatable medical condition.

Things just continued to get worse for Muriel. She wanted to go back home but wasn’t allowed. Her care workers looked to family to see if they could take her. When no suitable place was found within her family, she was placed in a long-term care facility.

When her family couldn’t agree on the management of her finances, the B.C. Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) took over.

The PGT took control of Muriel’s finances and charged her four per cent of her income for doing so. If the PGT decides to sell one’s home, they will collect four percent of the sale price, as well. She was angry at the loss of autonomy.

B.C. needs a Consent and Capacity Board like Ontario’s. If we had one, Muriel could have taken her objections to the board and they would have convened within seven days, and met at a place convenient for her.

Bob’s case is an example of what Ontario’s board can do. “Bob” was assessed by someone who had little knowledge of his medical, financial, or personal history. The assessor met Bob in a Tim Hortons and noted that he was “vague” in his responses to questions. Bob was asked to count coins she gave him under the table. When he failed to accurately to do, the assessor unilaterally decided that Bob was incapable of handling his finances.

The board found that the assessor, while well-intentioned, made “made a number of assumptions that were proven erroneous.” Bob regained control over his bank account and his life.

Seniors in B.C. need a Consent and Capacity Board that could prevent incorrect assessments and capable seniors being made wards of the state.

Who would benefit from a universal child care program?

As announced in the April 19 federal budget the Liberals will try, once again, to implement universal child care across Canada.

image: HuffPost Canada

They have been promising it for decades but never delivered. In 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority government pledged to start a program worth $5 billion over five years. Never happened.

This time, Ottawa is pledging $27.2-billion over five years. The catch is that the provinces, having jurisdiction over child care, must cooperate.  If they do, that would make them partners in a 50/50 sharing arrangement.

The difference between then and now is COVID-19. The Liberals, determined not to waste a pandemic, are back into big government and on a spending spree.

A strong federal government contrasts both Liberal and Conservative governments of the last three decades when balanced budgets in vogue. In his budget speech in 1995, then Finance Minister Paul Martin said:

“We are acting on a new vision of the role of government in the economy. In many cases that means smaller government. In all cases it means smarter government.”

The new Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, isn’t much worried about the size of government. In her budget speech, she said the COV ID-19 pandemic has “brutally exposed” something women have known for a long time: “Without child care, parents – usually mothers – can’t work.”

A universal child care program across Canada would be modeled on Quebec’s. The goal would be to bring child care down to about $10 a day.

It worked in Quebec. Before the child care program was put in place, Quebecois women’s participation in the workplace was below that of the rest of Canada. Now it’s above the rest.

So, who would benefit from a universal child care program? Not younger women aged 15 to 24. Relatively few women in that age group are mothers. Their participation in the workforce has been hit by woes of the retail sector. Child care wouldn’t be a big factor in getting them back to work.

Participation in the workforce for older women in the 25 to 54 age group wouldn’t be affected. Participation rates for them have recovered, and are even slightly higher than before the pandemic hit.

Those most affected are parents, mainly mothers, who when the pandemic hit were forced to work from home at reduced hours and to care for children not in daycare or in school.

Statistics don’t capture the stress of parents still working but juggling the care of children who are at home and learning online.

As Quebec’s experience has demonstrated, a universal child care program can pay for itself over time in two ways. It would put people to work, not only in the child care sector but by allowing previously unemployed parents to enter the workforce. Those workers will now be paying taxes that contribute to the cost.

Also, Canada can pull out of the massive debt just as we did after World War II by “growing out of debt.” As the economy grows, the debt burden relative to the GDP shrinks.

Bold government initiatives define what it means to be Canadian. When we describe the differences between ourselves and Americans, Canadians proudly point to our universal health care.

Universal child care could also be a defining feature of what it means to be Canadian –compassionate and concerned about the good of others.

A stronger federal government makes a post-pandemic Canada stronger

Two developments have strengthened Canada by making the federal government stronger.

The first was a Supreme Court ruling that determined the fed’s carbon pricing to be constitutional.

image: OECD Development Matters

Opponents of carbon pricing like to call it a “carbon tax” but, of course, it isn’t. A tax is a levy for public services rendered. As in B.C.’s case, carbon pricing simply means that burning fossil fuels costs more and that it’s is revenue neutral: total revenues collected remain the same. To emphasize this point, P.M. Trudeau said that if provinces couldn’t come up with a carbon pricing scheme, he would collect it anyway and return it directly back into the pockets of citizens of the affected province.

Because of the Supreme Court ruling, Canada is stronger much to the chagrin of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario who claimed that the feds were encroaching on their provincial rights.

A friend of mine in Alberta is very upset. He told me that Alberta should separate because the feds could now “do whatever they liked” to the provinces.

Well, not quite. The Supreme Court ruling was exceptional. The ruling was based on Canada’s obligations under 2015 Paris Agreement and the real threat of climate change.

 “Climate change is real,” Chief Justice Wagner wrote in his reason for the majority decision. “It is caused by greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities, and it poses a grave threat to humanity’s future. The only way to address the threat of climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The feds can’t do whatever they like. Under our federation, provinces have considerable powers that cannot be arbitrarily overturned.

Canada is also stronger because of the leadership role of the federal government in saving the economy from certain collapse because of the pandemic.

In 2008, the feds bailed out the financial sector. In 2020, they bailed out the entire economy. Had leaders followed supply-side economists, the pandemic would have unravelled the economy worse than the 1930s Great Depression.

Canada’s federal government provided extraordinary leadership during the pandemic.

David Macdonald, Senior Economist for the Canadian Centre for Alternatives says:

“The global COVID-19 pandemic has required government leadership on a scale that’s unprecedented in modern Canadian times. Including liquidity and unallocated funds, federal and provincial governments have announced almost $600 billion in spending commitments across 849 measures to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.”

Of that $600 billion, only eight per cent is coming from the provinces on average. However, some provinces demonstrated greater leadership than others.

In his report for the CCPA, Macdonald found that B.C.’s contribution was the highest of the provinces -at 16 per cent of the total provincial allocation. The B.C. government stands out as providing the highest per capita individual supports, eight times higher than the next highest province, Quebec.

Albertans, on the other hand, are receiving the highest level of per capita COVID19 spending, worth $11,200 a person—93% of which is on the federal tab. Alberta receives $1,200 more support, per person, from the federal government than any other province.

It seems to me that Alberta is doing very well as a member of the Canadian federation and Alberta Premier Kenney would do well to shut up and cooperate on mitigating climate change.

B.C. denies the mentally ill their constitutional rights

“Unlike most of country, B.C.’s legislation does not provide a lawyer for people with mental illness facing involuntary detention,” says Jay Chalke, B.C.’s ombudsperson (Globe and Mail, September 2, 2020)

Image: In These Times

Unlike other Canadian jurisdictions, mentally ill people can be held indefinitely -B.C. does not have an automatic review of ongoing detention.

That means that people, who may or may not be mentally ill, can be held endlessly.

Detention of people under the guise of mental illness can have political overtones. The Soviet Union misused psychiatry to get rid of political opponents. The term “philosophical intoxication,” a pseudo-scientific term for mental disorders, was applied to people who disagreed with the country’s Communist leaders.

I don’t mean to suggest that the government of B.C. is detaining political opponents under the Mental Health Act.  But systemic paternalism and racism can play a role.

And I don’t deny that mentally ill people who are violent need be detained for their own safety and the safety of others. The forced detention of unstable persons under the Mental Health Act is not the issue.

Given the treatment of Indigenous people as wards of the state, the detention of First Nations persons presents a complicating layer.

Take the case of “A.H.,” a First Nations 39-year-old woman who was wrongfully detained for almost a year.

In a court case between A.H. and the Fraser Health Authority, the Supreme Court of B.C. learned that A.H. had been held against her will and that she was not even found to be mentally ill.

It wasn’t a simple case -A.H. suffers from cognitive impairments and mental health issues. She has a history of substance abuse, family violence and sexual abuse. She was also diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

A.H.’s mother sexually exploited her by pressuring her to drink alcohol and take drugs to make her compliant to sexual abuse. She did not have clean clothes or sufficient food.

After she was detained, authorization to hold her longer than 48 hours under the Mental Health Act expired. Despite that, she remained captive. She asked staff to provide a lawyer but staff said they couldn’t help. She was not told why she was being detained and tried to escape. On at least one occasion, A.H. was physically restrained with mechanical restraints that tied her to the bed. She was forced to take medications, including sedatives.

In her ruling of the case in 2019, Honourable Madam Justice Warren said:

“However, the procedures for Mental Health Act certification were not followed and there is no evidence that A.H. was certifiable under that legislation.

“The detention decision deprived A.H. of her liberty, the most fundamental of her rights.  The consequences could scarcely have been more serious.  It is apparent that A.H. did not understand the basis for her detention or the reasons for it.  She expressed, multiple times during the course of the detention, confusion about her ongoing detention, repeatedly asking why she could not go home.”

The detention of unstable mentally ill people under B.C.’ Mental Health Act is necessary for the protection of themselves and others. But the unjustified detention of people under the pretext of doing it for their own good smacks of paternalism, and in the case of First Nations people, colonialism.

Electric cars aren’t a solution; they’re part of the problem

Question: How do electric cars fit into the future of Canada’s pedestrian-friendly cities with more green space, shorter travel times, and a focus on communities?

Answer: They don’t.

image: AMA Insider

The problem with electrics cars is that they are . . . a car. Car culture results in the paving over of large parts of cites for roads and parking lots. They contribute to urban sprawl with its associated problems: poorer health because suburbanites don’t walk to work or for groceries; the cost of extended infrastructure to service suburbs is expensive; the loss of agricultural land to build houses increases our food dependency.

But if you listen to big electric car promoters like Elon Musk, you would think that buying an electric car is virtuous.

Musk and other electric car manufacturers will be rejoicing at the latest Canadian court ruling that makes carbon pricing legal.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the federal scheme of carbon pricing is constitutional. It was a defeat for some fossil fuel-promoting provinces, such a Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

With a price on carbon, electric car buyers might think they are eliminating the need of fossil fuels for their car but 18 per cent of Canada’s electricity still comes from burning coal and natural gas.

And electric cars require their own infrastructure in order to charge them. Office buildings don’t have the capacity to charge the electric cars, so wiring of those buildings will have to be upgraded.

Charging stations are expensive. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, the cost of a 150-kilowatt fast-charging station with two chargers is US$38,000. Roads would have to dug up to install the stations.

Electric cars could be charged at a slower rate at home but many homes don’t have a driveway or garage. For them, electrical cords will have to be strung across sidewalks, creating a trip hazard.

Vancouver recently addressed the problem of cords by requiring that they be strung through special ramps. For five dollars a year, electric car owners can get a permit. The ramp protects the cord but places a bump in the sidewalk that strollers and bikes have to manoeuvre. If someone is injured while going over the ramp, the city makes it clear that they are free of “all liabilities, costs, and damages resulting from an accident.”

Then there is the problem of demand on the electrical grid. It’s not a problem for B.C. with all the hydroelectricity we have but other jurisdictions barely have enough electrical capacity as it is.

Take Texas, for example. If Texans were to plug in 60,000 electric cars into fast chargers all at once, it would bring down the entire electrical grid. That number of electric cars represents just one-quarter of one percent of all the registered cars in Texas. If it seems unlikely that everyone would plug their cars in at once, so did the winter storm this winter that brought down the grid.

The problem with electric cars is the same problem with all cars: they take up public space that should be devoted to people.

The sooner we ditch the car culture, they better.

Non-fungible tokens could help artists make a living

I didn’t realize that my art was non-fungible but that was because I didn’t know what the word fungible meant. Until recently, fungible was rarely used outside legal circles.

image: Decrypt

Now, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become all the rage.

Fungible things can be exchanged for something else of the same kind: they are equivalent. A twenty dollar bill is fungible because it can be exchanged for a ten and two fives. A house is not fungible because you can’t exchange it for a garage and two sheds. They are not equivalent.

My art is non-fungible. One of my acrylic paintings can’t be exchanged for a charcoal sketch and two plastic-fork mobiles.

Tokens that are non-fungible raise the level of abstraction beyond that of abstract art.

A non-fungible token is entirely virtual. It’s a bit of information stored on a blockchain, the same technology used to record cryptocurrencies. Blockchains can be used to store indelible records about almost anything, from the grocery store produce in as it moves through the supply chain to medical records.

And digital art can be stored as a token using blockchain -a record of provenance that establishes ownership and authenticity.

Artists are reaping the rewards of the craze. Michah Dowbak from Thunder Bay, Ontario, never heard of NFTs or digital art a year ago. Dowbak, who goes by the name Mad Dog Jones, recently sold a piece of digital art for US$ 4.3 million. He was stunned at the sale:

“How do you describe making $4-million in five minutes?” Dowbak said a few days afterward. “My hands were numb, for one. I couldn’t feel my fingertips. My whole body was shaking.”

Even the old-school auction house, Christie’s, is riding the wave. It sold a work by the digital artist known as Beeple for US$69 million.

Making a living as an artist has always been a struggle. I wanted to become a commercial artist when I left high school but I quickly learned that would be tough.

After working for a year as an arts and crafts instructor for the City of Edmonton in after-school programs, it became clear that I needed to develop another career path.  That’s when I decided to study electronics and it became the story of my life.

I’ve never stopped being an artist. But because I don’t have to make a living from art, I exchange my art for donations to charity.

For artists who immerse themselves in their art, making a living is hard; especially when they are unknown.

NFTs could help artists bypass the middlemen -the galleries and agents who take a cut of sales- and allow artists to market their work directly to buyers.

NFTs could solve another problem that struggling artists face: resale. Artists often sell their work to art speculators for very little. Then the speculators sell the art for many times more than what they paid. NFT contracts could include a clause that requires a percentage of the resale price go to the artist.

With a background in art and technology, I take some satisfaction in seeing this marriage of art and NFTs. As a teenager, little did I know that technology could lead to digital art and that digital art could be owned exclusively as a token.

Agreement with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs was either crafty or naive

Over a year ago, governments rid themselves of a political problem and passed it on to the Wet’suwet’en people of B.C.’s northern interior.

image: Globe and Mail

Governments had to “do something” when protestors in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs blocked railways and shut down freight and passenger traffic for several weeks.

In Kamloops, traffic was held up at the intersection of Summit and McGill by 30 to 40 protesters on February 7, 2020, by supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Bronwyn, 12 years old, told NL News:

“I just think it’s really wrong to be destroying Mother Nature with all these pipes and everything,” she said. “We were here, we were brought here and then we are destroying our world that we live in. We only have one world.”

From the perspective of colonial governments, the politics are clear. In a court of public opinion, given a choice between pipelines through indigenous territory and hereditary chiefs, the hereditary chiefs will win every time.

For elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs who agree with the pipeline, it’s not that simple.

The governments of B.C. and Canada drove a wedge through the Wet’suwet’en nation when they settled on a memorandum of agreement with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Governments excluded elected chiefs from the MOU.

You can hear the frustration in the voices of people like Maureen Luggi, an elected chief of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, one of the six band councils within the Wet’suwet’en Nation. She complained about the lack of communication with the hereditary chiefs:

“We’ve tried and tried and tried to get information with no luck. Really, things seem to have come to a standstill and myself and the other five elected chiefs and councils believe this whole process needs to be stopped immediately.

This is an agreement that regards our rights and title and we weren’t consulted on any of it and it’s still the case. We did not give our consent to the original agreement. We have no information to go on about what is being agreed to on our behalf. It’s been absolutely terrible (Globe and Mail, March 5, 2021).”

From the perspective of a member of a colonizing people, I find it hard to understand why popular opinion would sympathize with traditional, unelected chiefs. The closest parallel I can think of would be a reversal of the Magna Carta in 1215 in which the rights of the monarchy were transferred to citizens.

But that’s what our governments did. They bypassed negotiations with the elected Wet’suwet’en chiefs.

“I can tell you that any ratification of an agreement that [the hereditary chiefs] pursue will be met with objection by the elected councils,” says Luggi. “It will not happen.”

Did they governments of B.C. and Canada really think that unelected hereditary chiefs would bring the Wet’suwet’en people together? Or did they cynically hand over their political problem to the Wet’suwet’en?

Either governments were being naive in thinking that the hereditary chiefs had the necessary skills and authority in consensus building, or were they being crafty in ridding themselves of the problem.

One big grid is the solution to secure electricity

Professor Michael D. Mehta of Thompson Rivers University makes a number of good points in his article regarding a secure electrical system (Armchairmayor.ca, March 6, 2021).

However, he’s thinking in the wrong direction when he suggests that the solution is microgrids.

image: Student Energy

The recent electrical blackouts in Texas have focused the problem of electricity security. In a state that prides itself on independence and abundance of energy, it was the height of irony that they should suffer from an electricity shortage that left people freezing in the dark.

Texas’ problem was that its electrical grid was too small. In an attempt to avoid federal regulation, Texas constructed a grid that is a virtual island.  So when the cold snap hit, when wind turbines froze and natural gas generators quit, they had only themselves to rely on.

But not so for all of Texas. El Paso in eastern Texas did just fine, thank you. That’s because they were not connected to the Texas grid but rather to the much larger Western grid.

You see, there are three major electrical grids in North America: the Eastern Grid, the Western Grid and the Texas (ERCOT) Grid, El Paso picked a winner.

The big problem facing green energy is storage. Wind turbines and solar panels are great when the wind blows and the sun shines. But they usually produce too much power when we don’t need it and too little when we do. Storage seems like the answer.

However, as Professor Mehta mentions, no affordable storage system exists with the capacity needed. A number have been proposed; batteries, small-scale pumped hydro, compressed air, and flywheel technology.

Mehta suggests that the solution is not a bigger grid but smaller microgrids: “A microgrid is a local network of generators, often combined with energy storage.”

“Such systems can increase reliability and drive down carbon emissions when renewable energy is used,” says Mehta. “When combined with smart meters that reconcile inflows and outflows of electricity, microgrids provide real-time energy data. When a microgrid goes down, it only affects the local region and not an entire state or province.”

With one big continental grid, there is no storage problem and no one has to go without electricity.

One big grid solves the storage problem by virtue of its size.

The demands on one big grid are predictable. Cold snaps can be are forecast. In that case, thousands of generators, from big hydro dams to small run-of-river, solar and wind generators can be activated.

On an ordinary day, demands on one big grid are even more predictable. As people rise and shine on the Atlantic coast and turn on toasters, heaters, air conditioners in the summer, the demands on the West coast are minimal.

As the sun rises across the four and one-half time zones of our continent, the demand follows the sun. While the demands are not exactly constant they are predictable.

Of course, Canada doesn’t have a cross-country grid and neither does the U.S. Most of our connections are oriented in the worst way: they are North-South, in the same time zone where demands occur at the same time.

As Professor Mehta says, transmission lines are costly to build and lose power. The power loss can be minimized through use of High Voltage Direct Current transmission lines.

The construction of lines is a political problem, not one of cost. When the Trudeau government decided that the Trans Mountain Pipeline was in the national interest, he bought it and built it.