Right in the centre - Good intentions gone astray


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

My last week’s column about the shortcomings of Efficiency Manitoba and those of the previous Power Smart program touched off a few reactions. The problem is that with both programs, the assumption is correct. People should want to use less electricity and therefore, save money. There is nothing in it for Manitoba Hydro, as selling less power is not good for the utility. To use money from Hydro and their customers to convince people to do what they should do naturally is simply silly.

There is the argument that if Hydro sells less power to Manitobans, there will be more to sell to the export market. I could be wrong, but I believe Hydro gets less money from exported power than they do from power sold to Manitobans, so that argument doesn’t make sense either.

Power Smart was well intentioned, and probably Efficiency Manitoba is too, but Hydro should not be taking customers’ money and throwing it back to other customers when it makes no positive to Hydro’s bottom line. If a government decides it wants to help lower- income people achieve better housing, that is easier to heat in the winter or cool in the summer, there are better ways of doing it. The government could eliminate a lot of dumb bureaucracy that stands in the way of home renovations and innovation. That would be a good start. If loans are what is needed, then the government might want to loan money to homeowners, but it shouldn’t come out of Hydro’s income stream.

Another good intention gone wrong.

When government intervenes, it is usually well intentioned, but often goes sour quickly. Manitoba is not alone in the folly of recycling programs. Recycling in Manitoba got a good start 30 years ago, or more, under the leadership and guidance of then Environment minister Glen Cummings. It was recognized that recycling is everyone’s responsibility, so the beverage container levy was implemented. The name that became attached to the program was Recycle Manitoba. It has morphed, and not for the better by any means, into Multi Material Stewardship Manitoba or MMSM. A less inspiring name could not have been found anywhere on the planet.

MMSM tries its best but, like Efficiency Manitoba and Power Smart before that, it is based on some bad premises. MMSM claims very high, and likely false, recovery rates of containers, cardboard and other products. They have a board and staff. The staff run around the country auditing samples of recyclables at the landfills and then calculate formulas, so that some little bits of money can come dribbling back through the bureaucracy to the municipalities.

The idea is that people will diligently sort their trash into garbage and recyclables and equally diligently keep it all clean and sorted to the curb, to waste bins and dumpsters, into the mix-and-mash garbage trucks and then through a very expensive sorting process. The sorting process is followed by baling, storage, market searching and shipping to a customer. It is proving to be largely a crock of nonsense. Failure at any stage means the chain breaks. The most evident breakage comes in the form of whole shipping containers of low quality recycling (also known as garbage) being shipped back to Canada from The Philippines. 

The product levy is a good thing and likely needs to be higher. It should be on all products, not just drink containers. If all products were covered and recycling was completely commercialized, it might have a chance of working. The bureaucratic, short sighted approach is to raise tipping fees in the hope that more stuff will be recycled. Raising tipping fees has the opposite effect, as trash of all kinds ends up in back allies, in the bush somewhere or worse yet, in the lakes and oceans. Recycling, including garbage and all other waste management, needs a well-thought out, integrated commercialized approach. Landfills aren’t the long term answer and neither is our current useless bureaucracy. Trash can be a resource, but it will take a major re-think to achieve that result.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.