Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Disappearing Green Party

With massive disruptions taking place across Canada in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, it may seem a little trite for me to sit down and write a critique of the Green Party - a party that I've been a member of for over 12 years now.  Surely there are better things that I could spend my time writing about.

And yet, it's because Canada is experiencing these disruptions that writing about the Green Party is prescient - or rather, writing about how the Green Party has figured out a way to absent itself from the national discussions which are taking place in government, in the mainstream media, on social media, and even at the Tim Horton's here right in downtown Sudbury.  

The Disappearing Green Party
For all intents and purposes, the Green Party has disappeared.  And not just with regards to the Wet'suwet'en - but on just about every major issue of our times.  OK, sure, Elizabeth May had something good to say about rejecting Teck a little while back (see: "Elizabeth May calls on the government to reject the Teck Frontier mine," Elizabeth May MP, January 27, 2020), and this piece on the soaring costs of the Trans Mountain pipeline was pretty good (see: "Elizabeth May asks, ‘At what cost, Canada?’ Elizabeth May MP, February 14, 2020 - and it's also available at the National Observer so long as you don't view more than 7 of their posts a month). and I know that Paul Manly and the Green Party apparatus have been busy tweeting about land defenders, pipelines, uhm, indigenous rights, pipelines, and I think pipelines.  So yes, people are busy.  But is anyone noticing?

I frequent the National Newswatch news aggregator website.  I don't always have a chance to read everything that's linked there, but I tend to get a good feel for what's making the news just by reading the headlines.  It's kind of like a barometer for figuring out what stories are important to the mainstream media.  It's fun to watch as stories I've been following through other media start to percolate in the MSM sometimes days or weeks after they've broke elsewhere. 

In the lead-up to the 2019 federal election, the Green Party was getting some serious (well, "serious" for the Green Party) coverage in the mainstream media.  News stories and columnists were taking the time to write about a good number of different things related to the Party, Elizabeth May, and provincial Green parties.  With two weeks to go in the election, though, coverage of the Green Party dried up.  It sputtered on and off again (mostly off) for another month or so.  And after Elizabeth May made it known that she was stepping down as leader of the Party, coverage just vanished.

The Elizabeth May Party

What good is a political party that no one is talking about?  Sure, the Green Party of Canada is going through a bit of a renewal at the moment.  And by "renewal" I mean I'm seeing and hearing about long-time committed Greens like myself either openly questioning whether they should continue on with the Party, or are just leaving, packing it in.  The 2019 election sure as hell left a pack of disillusioned members behind.  
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Greta Thunberg

For those keeping score, that would be the fourth general election now where the Party anticipated a serious breakthrough but failed to deliver.  Arguably, the electoral dynamics in 2019 were the best we've ever seen: a lacklustre Liberal Party trying to hold on to the reins of government; the NDP a sinking ship; and the Conservative Party doing all that it can to alienate what remains of the progressive political right.  With climate strikes going on around the globe, with Greta Thunberg telling centrist politicos that they weren't doing enough, and with the mainstream media talking up the Green Party in a way that it never has before, it should have been fairly easy to elect a handful of Greens to parliament.

But instead, we stunk out the joint.  We released policies that committed us to supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure - maybe as an attempt to get a few votes from Alberta (because seriously, there was no other reason for our refinery policy to ever have seen the light of day in an election - much less as part of a 20-step plan to fight climate change.  We welcomed former NDP candidates into the party, despite many of those candidates never having agreed to join the party (see: "Some former NDP candidates in N.B. say they weren’t part of exodus to Greens," Global News, September 5, 2019).  And then we got embroiled in a discussion about whether those candidates were racists.

Federal Leaders Trainwreck Debate
Elizabeth May just didn't seem to have fire in her belly the same way that she did in previous elections.  While she had a pretty good debate performance that no one saw at the Macleans National Leader's Debate, she still took a hit from the NDP's Jagmeet Singh, who rightly questioned why she would continue to trot out the idea of having SNC Lavalin pay for water systems on First Nations reserves.  Unfortunately, May was all but invisible in the horrendous nationally televised English-language trainwreck "debate". 

And it would have been nice had May maybe not brought up the fact that, as Leader of the Green Party, she doesn't actually have the authority to tell other Greens in her caucus what they can and can't bring forward as private members bills - so if someone ever wanted to limit a woman's right to choose, while May was clear she'd oppose that bill, as Leader she couldn't kill it.  That kind of nuance did not go over well with the mainstream media, and it gave the NDP ammunition to convincingly make stuff up about the Green Party's and May's commitment to women's issues.  

The Green Party Has Lost Its Way

That damn cup.
May can't take the fault for the Green Party's lacklustre performance in the last election.  Or at least Greens aren't going to blame her.  What most engaged Greens have been complaining to one another about for the past few months hasn't been May - it's about how the Party has lost its way.  This was exemplified in the election by the infamous coffee cup episode, where a backroom staffer fiddled with a photo of May holding - well, originally holding a coffee cup, but the cup was photoshopped out in favour of a reuseable mug.  Thing was, the coffee cup that got photoshopped out was actually a biodegradable cup (see: "Green Party Leader Photoshopped With Fake Reusable Cup and Straw," Vice News, September 24, 2019). 

So much for doing politics differently.

All in all, May and the Green Party spent a lot more time during the 2019 election explaining themselves to the media, rather than talking about the issues.  Granted, discussions about actual issues by all political parties were noticeably absent during the 2019 election.  But as Ronald Reagan once said about something or other, "If you're explaining, you're losing." When all of your media oxygen is taken up trying to convince the media that you're not a racist or anti-choice or that you don't go around photoshopping every picture you can get your hands on - well you're losing. And we lost. Big-time.
We sure did do it.

Or did we?  The Party initially tried to spin the fact that we elected 3 Green MP's as some sort of huge victory.  Either that didn't go over well with Greens like me who have been paying attention and were expecting a few more in the "win" column in 2019, or the disappearance of the Party and its growing irrelevancy since about mid-November led the spin-doctors to call it a day.  Clearly, 2019 was no victory for the party.

Leadership Contest

Alex Tyrrell in a canoe.
With May's departure as leader in early November, the "race" to replace her was on!  Almost immediately, Green Party of Quebec leader Alex Tyrrell announced that he was going to throw his hat in the ring  (well, actually he announced his intention to replace May even before May resigned - see: "Quebec's Green Party leader eyeing federal job if Elizabeth May steps down," CBC News, November 3, 2020).  For a few days in early November, Tyrrell got his name in the news. But since then there has been little but silence in the mainstream media about the Green leadership contest (even though Alex has now released what has to be standard gear for any national political party leadership aspirant - a photo of themselves alone in a canoe).

Now I know it might not be fair to contrast the Green Party's leadership contest with that of the Conservative Party - especially in terms of coverage given the two parties by the media.  But at the same time, I just can't help but notice that every day, a Conservative leadership candidate is making national headlines.  Sure, they're not always positive headlines.  And ok, so the Cons have 121 seats to our 3.  And they've got gobs of money.  And they've got former cabinet ministers vying for the top spot.  And - well, let's just say that they seem to have their act together, at least when it comes to the contest itself - even though Andrew Scheer stepped down as leader over a month after May resigned.  And Scheer has stayed on as interim leader, hogging some of those headlines (er, again, often not in a good way), whereas May has handed the reins of the Green Party over to interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts whom no one has ever heard of (at least not in the context of being the interim leader of the Green Party).

Today was the deadline for leadership contestants to clear the first hurdle of the Conservative Party's nomination process.  The Cons have been right eager to elect a new leader (and with Andrew Scheer staying at their helm until a new one is elected, who can blame them?).  But the Green Party has decided to take a more leisurely approach - I guess because we're not going to have to struggle with getting our new leader's name out there to the public before the next election.  Who knows.  Anyway, the same day that May stepped down, the Party announced that the leadership contest would take place in Charlottetown, on October 3, 2020 - 11 months away.

No bodies and Nobodies

Here's what I have to say about an 11 month leadership contest.  It's probably the right amount of time for the Green Party to pick a new leader - although I can see why the Conservatives decided to compress their contest into a much shorter timeframe given that we are in a minority government situation.  But the real think about the Green Party's 11 month leadership contest is that it isn't.  Isn't 11 months, I mean.  The Party only got around to releasing the Rules for the contest on February 3, 2020 - leaving just 8 months for contestants to campaign (see: "Green Party leadership race officially launches today in P.E.I." CBC News, February 3, 2020) and to raise the $50,000 entry fee.

That's right.  You want to be leader of the Green Party, you've got to pony up $50k.  Oh, not all at once, though.  There's a staggered submission process.

GPC Leadership Contest Rules - Section 11

Potential leadership contestants have until June 3rd to apply.  So we'll know in another few months exactly who has thrown their hat in the ring - just as the mainstream media is taking off for the summer.  Good luck to all of the leadership candidates getting their names out there to Party members via the mainstream media!

Ah, but who am I kidding?  The mainstream media wasn't going to be paying any attention to this leadership contest anyway.  Why would they waste their time reporting on the Green Party now when they haven't wasted their time reporting on the Green Party since the election?  At least people have heard of Elizabeth May - she still commands a bit of a media following, despite no longer leading the Party.  But - this is not to denigrate those who have currently expressed interest in the Green Party's leadership - why would the media write about any of the would-be leaders?  It's not like Green Party members have expressed any degree of excitement about them, so why should the media?

Especially since it's not clear that any of them are going to be able to raise the $50 grand needed to officially register as a candidate.  This might be the leadership contest where the only bodies anyone could find to run were nobodies.


Could there be others waiting in the wings to announce their candidacy?  God, I hope so.  It's not that those who have signaled interest would make bad candidates, it's just that nobody's ever heard of them, and I fear that the Green Party is going to spend years in the wilderness trying to build up a little name recognition.  I get that the Green Party is not a leader-driven Party in the same way that the old-line parties are, but I will say that until the media figures out how to report on the Green Party (should they ever show any interest in doing so again), it's important that our leader at least be known by, oh, maybe 1% of 1% of Canadians.

If a big name doesn't step forward to lead our Party, I can't help but think that our Party is going to remain invisible throughout 2020 - and maybe into 2030.  And I don't know that I've got the appetite to stick around and build (rebuild?) the Party with the hopes that one day we might elect enough Greens to actually be able to influence something that's important to us.  

I've been of the opinion for some time now that the Green Party ought to seriously consider merging with the NDP, because our two parties are not actually all that far apart on the issues (see: "Is This All That Stands in the Way of NDP-Green Electoral Co-operation?" Sudbury Steve May, May 14, 2019). It had been my hope that at least one leadership contestant might grab ahold of that idea and run with it.  But no one is going to pay $50k to try to merge it with the New Democrats.

If a merger wasn't going to be a thing, I've expounded on the need to recruit a household name as leader (see: "Who Will Be The Next Leader of the Green Party?" Sudbury Steve May, November 5, 2019).  I offered up former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne - but I presume that she remains otherwise engaged.  I suggested maybe Rick Mercer or Pamela Anderson - but I suspect that they might have other things on the go, too (see: "OK Greens, Where Do We Go From Here?" Sudbury Steve May, November 13, 2019). 

Glen Murray on Twitter
Who Can Save Us?

So who does that leave?  I've been watching with interest the recent tweeting habits of Glen Murray, Ontario's former Minister of the Environment and the former Mayor of Winnipeg.  His tweets have stirred a slight flutter in my curiosity.  But I don't think we Greens can count on that former Ontario Liberal to ride in and try to save the day.  So who really does that leave?

In all seriousness, I'd like to offer up one final suggestion - even though I suspect the chances of her going for it are slim to none.  But she does have a seat in parliament, and she commands a degree of respect from the media.  

You know I'm talking about Elizabeth May.
Yes, Elizabeth May.

And why wouldn't I be?  Faced with what might be (yet even more) years in the political wilderness, and with a minority government situation that could send us to the polls on a moment's notice, why not turn back to May?  She certainly has the capacity to turn our party opaque from its present invisible status.

Think about it: if May ran, she would win.  You know it's true.  And that says a little something about the Green Party of Canada that some don't want to hear.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Teck Decision Could be an Existential One for Canada’s Liberals

This month, Canada’s Liberal government is faced with what might be an existential decision. Vancouver-based mining giant Teck Resources needs federal cabinet’s approval for a new open-pit bitumen mine in Northern Alberta which is expected to generate 6 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually until the year 2067 (see: “Behind the headlines: 6 need-to-know facts about the Teck Frontier mine,” Jesse Firempong, Greenpeace Canada, February 3, 2020).  For Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, having campaigned twice now on getting serious about climate change, approval of Teck’s Frontier mine could lead to a caucus revolt (see: Teck Mine a ‘pretty easy no’, Liberal MPS tell Trudeau in raucous caucus meeting,” the Energy Mix, February 7, 2020).  With citizens from coast to coast to coast already protesting in the streets in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, a federal decision to build yet more fossil fuel infrastructure on the basis of a questionable review process would certainly kill any last shred of climate legitimacy the Liberals might still be clinging to (see: Regardless of the decision, Teck Frontier proves the system is still broken,” Simon Dyer, the Globe and Mail, February 12, 2020).

Teck’s cheerleaders, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and former Liberal Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi, are keen to point out that greenhouse gas emissions can be accommodated under Alberta’s 100 megatonne emissions cap, first put in place by former NDP Premier Rachel Notley (see: “Sohi solution can give Trudeau and Kenney the win-win on Frontier oilsands mine that Canada needs,” David Staples, the Edmonton Journal, January 31, 2020). However, Alberta’s cap on tar sands emissions has never been integrated into a coherent national plan to reduce emissions (see: Alberta's climate plan stands in the way of Canada's,” Gordon Laxer, the Edmonton Journal, December 3, 2015). After 5 years in power, the lack of a serious national plan to achieve even former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s weak and ineffectual emissions reduction target for 2030 is a national embarrassment (see: Trudeau set to break its promise to meet even Harper's weak carbon-emissions reduction target,” The Council of Canadians, March 29, 2017)

Alberta’s CO2 equivalent emissions are about 65 tonnes per capita, compared to the average for the remainder of Canada at just 15 tonnes (see: “Behind the headlines: 6 need-to-know facts about the Teck Frontier mine,” Jesse Firempong, Greenpeace Canada, February 3, 2020).  If Alberta’s tar sands emissions climb to 100 megatonnes, other provinces, like Ontario, will have to do more than their fair share in compensate (see: Alberta’s new carbon tax,” Andy Skuce, Skeptical Science, December 31, 2015).  The Frontier mine alone, if built, would become the 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the nation. With new mining ventures in northern Ontario needed to produce the mineral resources to power the green economy, what might our province have to give up in order to allow Alberta to keep pumping high-emissions energy for yesterday’s marketplace? 

However, if projects like the government-owned Trans Mountain bitumen pipeline are going to at least pretend to be economically viable, a higher level of extraction from an expanded tar sands is necessary.  Cost estimates for Trans Mountain have ballooned to $16 billion (see: “Elizabeth May asks, ‘At what cost, Canada?’” Elizabeth May MPP, February 14, 2020).  Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau might think it would be a shame to spend all of that money on a pipeline, but have nothing to fill it with. With the job-producing green economy taking off globally, how much taxpayer money is going to have to further subsidize Canada’s fossil fuel sector to keep up appearances of competitiveness?

The Frontier mine simply can’t proceed. The only sensible decision for the Liberals is to reject Teck, and to finally develop a truly national plan to do what’s necessary to begin tackling the climate emergency.  That plan will be based on serious emissions reduction targets and provide for realistic provincial carbon budgets. It must include plans for a just transition for fossil fuel workers.  It will end subsidies to the fossil fuel sector. And it will include a roadmap for a bold transition to the green economy, including winding down fossil fuel production over the next several decades (see: “A strong climate plan is key to Canada’s economic prosperity,” Pembina Institute, October 8, 2019).

It’s the sort of plan that the Liberals should have been working on over the last 5 years, after climate obstructionist Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were ousted by voters at the ballot box.  It’s what Trudeau promised Canadians while on the campaign trail – in 2015 and again in 2019. Liberals should keep in mind Canadian’s opinions on climate change have shifted massively over the past decade, with polls showing voters having little appetite for inaction.  The decision on Teck could very well be a defining moment for Canada’s Liberal government – and for the Liberal Party.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: Teck decision an existential one for Canada’s Liberals," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday February 22, 2020 - without hyperlinks.

Monday, January 27, 2020

No New Airport in Pickering In a Time of Climate Crisis

Could 2020 be the year that the federal government decides once and for all that building a new airport northeast of Toronto is simply not compatible with achieving Canada’s climate targets?  

The Pickering airport has long been a political football, punted down the road by every government of the day since it was first announced in 1972.  At that time, it was believed that a new international airport was needed to address capacity issues.  Farms, businesses and two whole villages were expropriated by the federal government in the early 1970s to make way for the airport’s grand opening, scheduled for 1979.  But over 45 years later, with air travel rates in the Greater Toronto Area never having lived up to expectations, those lands remain vacant (see: "Pickering airport? Time to hit reset,” International Airport Review, March 1, 2017).
In May, 2019, the aviation sector’s consultant, KPMG, submitted an assessment report to Transport Canada that many believe lays the groundwork for the federal government to greenlight the project (see: "New year sparks renewed interest in Pickering Airport,” the Oshawa Express, January 14, 2020).  However, just a month later, the House of Commons passed a motion declaring a national climate emergency (see: "House of Commons declares a climate emergency ahead of pipeline decision,” CBC News, June 18, 2019).  Constructing new aviation infrastructure like the Pickering Airport is seen by many as incompatible with achieving Canada’s long-term emissions reductions targets.

Air travel generally produces more greenhouse gas emissions per traveled kilometre than just about any other form of transportation.  And unlike road and rail transport, the technology doesn’t yet exist for wide-scale electrification.  While jet fuel efficiency has helped reduce net emission per flight, the incredible growth of air travel has seen emissions grow by over 80% since 1990 (see: "Air travel and climate change,” David Suzuki Foundation, October 5, 2017). Air travel now represent about 2.5% of all global emissions, thanks to cheap passenger fares and the rise of online shopping (see: "After decades in limbo, 2020 could be a critical year for the Pickering Airport,” CBC News, January 3, 2020).

A growing awareness of the out-sized impacts that air travel has on global climate has led to a phenomenon known as “flygskam” or “flight shaming”. Some European air carriers are citing this growing environmental awareness for a decline in domestic air travel rates (see: "Air travel is a huge contributor to climate change. A new global movement wants you to be ashamed to fly.” Vox, November 30, 2019).  As consumers continue to connect the dots between rising temperatures and air travel, where alternatives to flying are available, the trend toward ‘slow travel’ is expected to continue (see: "Canadian airlines feel the pressure of flight-shaming and the 'Greta effect',” CTV News, January 19, 2020).

As difficult as it is true, growth in the global aviation sector is simply not compatible with holding global heating to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius as Canada and almost every other nation in the world has committed to doing.  This commitment requires a complete rethink of how passengers and freight are going to move between locations, and how governments invest in transportation infrastructure.

This need to rethink transportation priorities provides our federal government with an exit strategy for the Pickering airport.  Land Over Landings, a local activist organization fighting to protect prime farmland and watersheds in Durham Region from unnecessary airport development, has been keen to point this out to local governments and Transport Canada.  They’ve been working at the local level with other citizens groups towards getting their regional government to acknowledge the climate crisis (see: "Durham’s Climate Change Emergency Declaration,” Land Over Landings, January 17, 2020), as so many others have already done, including Greater Sudbury’s.  

With polls showing a growing public awareness of the climate crisis among all Canadians, politicians and decision-makers at all levels of government would do well to listen to activist groups like Land Over Landings (see: "Durham Region taking action on climate change,” Durham, December 9, 2019).

No one is suggesting that it would be prudent to close down Canada’s aviation sector. Vulnerable citizens, many of whom live in remote areas, rely on air travel.  With an historic lack of investment in other forms of lower-carbon transport, like bus and rail, alternatives to flying can be expensive or non-existent.  But with the climate crisis upon us, it’s unacceptable to invest in new infrastructure that locks us in to growing our emissions at a time when we must start shrinking them.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: No new airport in Pickering in a time of climate crisis," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday January 24, 2020 - without hyperlinks.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Implementing UNDRIP will Fundamentally Change Canada For the Better

What we call “Canada” is about to change.  In the recent speech from the Throne, Prime Minister Trudeau’s government promised to introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (see: “Liberals promise to table UNDRIP law within one year,” the Nunatsiaq News, December 6, 2019).  This will fundamentally alter the legal, institutional and political systems that have long tilted the balance of power away from indigenous communities, and to the benefit of settlers and the Crown.

We’ve already started to rebalance the relationship between indigenous peoples who have always been here and the settler state that imposed itself upon them. We’ve begun to finally recognize that Canada is a colonial nation, founded and built upon racist principles of cultural superiority, to the detriment of indigenous communities and culture.  We are starting to come to terms with the role that institutional racism has played in the history of our country, and how it continues to impact our laws, policies and programs today. 

UNDRIP explodes several of the foundational assumptions that underly the creation of Canada as a nation-state.  The Declaration calls for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (see: “Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery,” The Assembly of Frist Nations, January 2018) and the Doctrine of terra nullius, which together gave rise to the concept that European Kings had the exclusive jurisdiction over ‘discovered’ lands – despite the presence of indigenous inhabitants (see: Ditching the doctrine of discovery (and what that means for Canadian law),” Senwung Luk, Olthuis Kleer Townshed – LLP (undated)).  

King George III set out how the North American continent was to be settled by Europeans in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 – which many legal scholars cite as the genesis for the concept of ‘aboriginal title’ and ‘aboriginal rights’ that are now protected in our Constitution as per the Supreme Court.  The Proclamation established a monopoly over indigenous lands for the benefit of British Crown (it’s where the term “Crown Lands” is derived from).  Although the Proclamation required treaties between the Crown and First Nations prior to taking land and resources, it was nevertheless developed in absence of indigenous input and cultural practices. Historically, the Proclamation has been unevenly implemented – to say the least (see: "Royal Proclamation, 1763," indigenous (undated)).

British Columbia has already legislated the implementation of UNDRIP (see: "BC Bill 41: A Promising Start to Implementing UNDRIP,” Larry Innes, Matt McPherson and Oliver MacLaren, Olthuis Kleer Townshed – LLP (undated)), and the Northwest Territories is about to do the same (see: "What does 'implementing UNDRIP' actually mean?” CBC News, November 2, 2019).  With Canada poised to follow suit, it won’t be too much longer before all Crown governments (hello, Ontario!) are forced to confront their own colonial legacies and determine how best to structure a framework for future reconciliation and decolonization. 

These changes to Canada’s underlying structures will create challenges for our national and provincial governments.  One significant challenge is sure to involve the development of non-renewable resources (see: "Aboriginal rights, conservation and Canada’s future – the far reaching implications of the Tsilhqot’in case,” Larry Innes, Olthuis Kleer Townshed – LLP (undated)). UNDRIP requires the ‘free and prior informed consent’ of indigenous peoples when new resource development projects are being considered. That’s a higher standard than the ‘duty to consult and accommodate’ established by the Supreme Court – a standard that the government of Canada failed to meet when it approved the Northern Gateway pipeline project (see: "Court overturns Ottawa’s approval of Northern Gateway pipeline,” The Globe and Mail, June 30, 2016).  Canada is presently defending its decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline at the Federal Court of Appeal, where several B.C. First Nations are arguing that Canada didn’t uphold the honour of the Crown (see: "Trans Mountain pipeline expansion approval 'unlawful,' First Nations argue as new court challenge begins,” CBC News, December 16, 2019).

Critics claim that ‘free, prior and informed consent’ would lead to an indigenous veto for resource development.  This claim isn’t supported by Canadian or international law – and it would not be in keeping with Canada’s commitment to reconciliation.  Instead, responsible decision-making will be an obligation shared by Crown and indigenous governments (see: "Distinguishing consent from veto in an era of reconciliation,” Jason Tockman, Policynote, April 10, 2017).

Make no mistake: power-sharing with indigenous nations poses a serious threat to those who want to continue to develop fossil fuels. Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of the climate emergency, fighting for justice against unwanted fossil infrastructure. The implementation of UNDRIP will almost certainly force our governments to finally make science-based decisions that leave most of our coal, oil and gas safely sequestered in the ground. That will be good for all of Canada’s communities – and for the planet.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "Steve May: Implementing ‘UNDRIP’ will change Canada for the better," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday December 22, 2019 - without hyperlinks.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Community Energy and Emissions Plan Sets Sudbury on Course for Transformative Change

What will be called one of the most important and visionary plans to guide change in the City of Greater Sudbury received preliminary approval from Council earlier this month. The Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP) is a comprehensive strategy to reduce the use of fossil fuels. With a net-zero emissions target for the year 2050, the plan calls for normalizing transformative change in how we shape, build and get around our communities.

Positioned as part of the response to the City’s recent declaration of a climate emergency, the CEEP has actually been in the works for a couple of years. It’s been the subject of considerable public and stakeholder engagement (see:“May: PowerUp to cut energy use, carbon pollution in Sudbury,” the Sudbury Star. October 6, 2018), and it’ll be heading back out to the public, with the final plan expected to go to Council in the early new year.

Not surprisingly, the CEEP is data-heavy. It establishes a baseline for emissions, and projects where Greater Sudbury might end up if we do nothing for the next 30 years, through what it calls a “Business as Usual” scenario. Greater Sudbury can still expect to see an 11% reduction in energy use by 2050. What’s driving the decline is the on-going shift to electric personal and commercial vehicles and (importantly for Sudbury), industrial vehicles used in mining operations. But a warming climate itself also gives us a bit of an assist, as the number of days needed to heat our homes, mostly with emissions-intensive natural gas, is decreasing due to shorter winter seasons.

Transportation is responsible for the largest share of emissions in the City. By 2050, the CEEP is calling for 35% of all trips to be made through active transportation – also known as walking and cycling. Today, that number seems highly aspirational in a City that at times appears to go out of its way to cater to cars. But Greater Sudbury isn’t alone in needing to re-engineer a largely suburban built-form so as to better accommodate the needs of pedestrians and cyclists. After all, with or without the CEEP, there are going to be many more people getting around on bikes and on foot in the future.

Rachelle Niemela, chair of Bike Sudbury (formerly the Sudbury Cyclists Union), identifies the City’s budget process, which is about to get underway, as a crucial time to flag needed improvements. One of Bike Sudbury’s priorities is the completion of a minimum grid of safe cycling infrastructure, connecting neighbourhoods to each other and to employment areas.

“This is coming along,” says Niemela. “We fully support the work that is being planned for the Paris/Notre Dame bikeway, and routes that are recommended in the TMP (Transportation Master Plan). The TMP however has some missing links and missing

infrastructure on high-volume, high-speed roads what we’d like to see addressed. The TMP’s timelines indicate that a safe and complete network can only be competed in 15 to 20 years. We need to develop an action plan to more quickly implement that network and build the grid.”

Municipalities are used to moving at the speed of incremental change. But the CEEP is clear that transformative change, which requires significant upfront investment in infrastructure and programs, will save citizens and the municipality money, while creating jobs and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Waiting another 20 years to be able to safely bike around the City just isn’t in the cards, given the climate emergency.

If you’re interested, the next Community Energy and Emissions Plan workshop takes place at 6:30 PM, Thursday, November 28th, at the Northbury Hotel and Conference Centre, 50 Brady Street. And Bike Sudbury is hosting a social at Spacecraft Brewery, 854 Notre Dame Avenue, on Wednesday, November 27th, starting at 7:00 PM.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: Plan sets Sudbury on course for transformative change," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday November 23, 2019 - without hyperlinks.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

OK Greens, Where Do We Go From Here?

"Greens might take some solace in seeing Elizabeth May returned to the House accompanied by two new B.C.-based MP's (and having had a few other candidates show strong second-place finishes in B.C. and New Brunswick).  But 3 MP's will prove a disappointment for a Party that sees Green fortunes rising around the world, but can do little to tap into the same sentiment here in Canada, in part thanks to our antique First Past the Post electoral system.  Before the year is out, May will announce her pending departure as Party leader in 2020, although she will stay on as MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands." - From: "Crystal Ball Gazing: (Mainly) Political Predictions for 2019," Sudbury Steve May, December 31, 2018. 

OK.  So here we are, with a bittersweet election behind us, an interim leader in place, and a leadership contest coming up quickly.  I guess nobody would have thought that we'd end up here at the end of 2019....

Ahem.  Anyway, here we are.  Perhaps it's time for the Green Party of Canada and its engaged members to give some serious consideration about where we go from here.  

I think we have several options - some of which are admittedly pretty bold.  Let me lay them out for you.

We can opt to continue to muddle along as we've always done.  I expect that's the most likely route that we're going to take, even though this option is going to likely lead to disappointment during the next election, as well.

Change, though, is never easy - and that's especially true for engaged Greens who are, like every other partisan, pretty set in our ways.  Add the fact that we haven't been asked to change much over the past 13 years, and you can see how our complacency has become fairly intractable.  I don't think that Greens are going to opt to shift gears in any significant way over the next year - but if we were to think about doing it, clearly now is the time.

We do have some other options.  Rather than muddling through, Greens could boldly choose someone from outside of the Party with a high profile on whom to pin our hopes for success.  Forget about policy and all that - let's run on the basis that our leader is golden - or at least better than the other leaders - and let's see Greens elected because of her (whomever she may be).

Alternatively, maybe it's time to rethink just who and what our Party is.  Perhaps the way to success lies not in emulating the NDP or the Liberals, but instead using the Bloc Quebecois as our model.

Or maybe it's time to acknowledge that the Green Party of Canada simply does not have the time to elect enough Green MP's to create the change that we need in Canada right now, because of the climate crisis.  With the clock ticking, maybe we ought to be looking around for a wagon to hitch ourselves to that can carry a few more of us over the finish line - even if that means that the Green Party of Canada as we know it, ceases to be.

Merge with the NDP

Let's explore that last option first, as it's the one that I think we ought to seriously explore - even though the NDP and its present leader Jagmeet Singh opted to burn bridges with our Party during the recent election.  I know some New Democrats have simply shrugged about that and said, "Hey, Politics" but the fact of the matter is the NDP has some serious issues with ethics that make them a very undesirable partner for a merger.

I like to describe myself as the Green Party's most partisan Partisan - and I've been writing for years about how the NDP is a) just not serious about the climate crisis; and, b) infected by a culture of winning to the point that it no longer stands for much of anything.  With recent bridges burnt, why the hell am I suggesting that merger with the New Democrats is in the interest of Greens?

It all comes back to timing.  The IPCC gave us just 12 years to get our act together on the climate crisis - and that was last year.  We just went through an election where the other three national parties were running on climate action plans that were woefully inadequate to achieve Canada's weak targets.  The NDP's plan was a little better than that offered up by the Liberals, but even that plan wasn't good enough.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

But the NDP, under Singh, have moved the ball in their own party over the past several years.  I know, I know: I can hear Greens now saying that this was just to get elected - that the NDP would do or say anything to win votes, but at the end of the day, they're not serious climate champions.  Look at how Singh caved to Trudeau in his list of "demands" that failed to include beefing up Canada's emission reduction targets.  

Look, I get it.  And I'll throw in a John Horgan who continues to pimp out LNG, and a Rachel Notley who never saw a pipeline she didn't like.  I get it.  But the NDP has upped its game enough that they are now closer to the Green Party on many issues - closer than they've ever been before.

And if we're simply going to keep electing a number of MP's that we can count on a single hand (and that seems to be the direction the Party is heading in), what is the point of wasting more time and effort, treasure and sweat, in ridings like Sudbury and Central Nova and Kelowna?

Greater than the Sum of Our Parts

If we worked with the NDP instead of against them, we will have a much greater chance of electing MP's that are a little more serious about taking action on the climate crisis.  What I'm talking about doesn't have to be an outright merger with the NDP - but that's probably the cleanest way of proceeding, given the media's ability to misconstrue and muddle any intentions that aren't a binary black/white choice.

The NDP is not exactly the healthiest political party out there at this time.  There are elements in that party who would be open to a merger.  Sure, like we Greens, there are New Democrats who would be appalled at the notion of merging - but if talks could take place first at high levels, and the memberships of both parties be presented with, I don't know, some sort of values-based agreement in principle - I bet we could pull off a merger before the next election.

And elect more MPs together than we would have separately.

Regional Green Parties

Alternatively, the Green Party of Canada could just pack it in throughout most of the country.  Fact of the matter is, we're pretty sparse on the ground in most of Canada's regions anyway.  I've often wondered what I'm doing here in a no-hope riding, just waving the flag when it's like pulling teeth to find someone, anyone, to help grow our presence here.  I'm sure I'm not the only one, and that Sudbury isn't the only riding where this is happening.

Fact of the matter is, national campaigns cost money.  What if we didn't do that, because there was no longer a national party?  What if we focused our efforts on electing Greens just in certain regions, like Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and the Maritimes?  Dissolve the Green Party of Canada, and from its ashes see two or three regional Green Parties rise up - each with its own member-approved mandate and policies, tailored for regional success.

Sure, those parties might not receive the same level of national exposure as a single Green Party of Canada would.  But now that Elizabeth May is gone, how much exposure do you expect the Green Party of Canada to receive over the next few years?  What level of success have we experienced so far, doing what we've been doing, and what are our expectations going forward?  They're not great.

Regional parties are actually very much in keeping with our values for participatory democracy - in a way that, say, a full national party in a nation as regionally divided as Canada is, isn't.  Yes, it might mean that Greens like me are left homeless in some of the regions - but maybe we'd have to find new homes and work from inside the other parties to create the changes that we want to see.  It's not ideal, but we don't have time for ideal.

PR-Driven Leader

I understand that dissolving the Green Party of Canada probably isn't high on anybody's list of "things to do" right now (even though it really ought to be), so the best that we're likely to do if we want to see more Green MP's elected (and that's a big "if" for many in our party) would be to find a leader with a high profile who can stay in the media's eye until the next E-Day.  Yes, I'm talking about winning on the basis of public relations.  A leader that looks and sounds great, who people know, and trust (and maybe even like).  They wouldn't have to be a policy heavy-weight.  They'd just have to be able to deliver the goods.  Think about how Ben Mulroney's name is being floated right now in Conservative circles.  Or how Svend Robinson's name might have been floated in New Democratic circles had he won a seat.

Pamela Anderson
Even this is a tall order.  There isn't anyone like that in the Party right now.  And the membership would probably hate that concept just as much (or more) than a merger or a dissolution of the national party to create regional entities.  We'd have to find somebody from outside of the Party to step in and take on this role.  Jody Wilson-Raybould might be the most obvious choice, but I've seen some Greens floating names like Naomi Klein and Megan Leslie.  I myself keep floating Kathleen Wynne's name (although I can't seriously imagine she'd want the job - but then again, I can't imagine Klein or Leslie would, either).  Some have even suggested Pamela Anderson.  In all seriousness, I'm not actually sure how I feel about that idea - there is a hell of a lot of merit to finding a celebrity like Anderson to lead our Party.

Rick Mercer
If he wasn't such a Liberal, I'd totally suggest Rick Mercer.

Anyway, point is, these are the types of leaders that we really ought to be thinking about right now.  I understand that their own values may not always be in keeping with the values of the Party, but if they can bring themselves to take on the role of spokesperson that our Party's Constitution mandates our leaders to adopt, that might just be enough for, let's say, more ideologically-driven Green candidates to find themselves winning seats.

After all, election campaigns aren't about policy.  They're about being able to deliver a message of confidence and competence.  The Green Party just got through running an election campaign that (where anyone noticed it at all) was largely based on fear - it wasn't a good look for us, despite the fact that the world is going to become one hell of a scary place if we don't get our act together.  Mostly, though, Elizabeth May was left having to explain why Greens weren't anti-choice, racists, in bed with separatists, and really did do politics differently despite Warren Kinsella and photoshop.  There was little opportunity to tell voters why having a plan to tackle climate change sorta kinda mattered.

And that's not going to change.  

Jagmeet Singh probably salvaged losing a half dozen seats on the basis of "Mr. Deny and Mr. Delay" alone.  Two-second zingers in leadership debates count for more than a fully-costed climate action plan that would still see the economy grow by 1.3%.

And no, I'm not being facetious here.  I wish more Greens understood this.  We can have all of the policies in the world to save the world - but if we don't have the media's attention, it won't matter.  

But Greens don't want to hear this.  I can't really blame them - it's cynical and it's crappy.  It doesn't necessarily have to be, though.  Think about all of the people NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has inspired - just don't contrast that number to the number of people that Singh has turned off with his touchy-feely hope-y whatever.  A lot of people like that lightweight stuff.  It sells.  It's not something that any Green could have ever asked Elizabeth May to do - but it works.

Muddling Through

Most likely, we Greens will do nothing.  We'll be offered up a smorgasboard of nomination contestants that most of us don't know, and we'll have little opportunity to find out who, exactly, these people are, and what they stand for.  Their own vision won't matter all that much anyway - for if anyone does start talking about taking the party in a 'new direction' they're going to run into the ire of the membership, which is the unit of the party that sets policy (not the leader).

Sure, they'll each talk about organization - and maybe this is how they'll set themselves apart from one another.  Engaged Greens will love to hear about how a new leader is going to rebuild the Party from the inside out, and about how they'll work with the administration to find the funds for a more robust organizing team.  

I won't be looking for any of that.  There's just not enough time.  Yes, if we're going to function as a national party, we need better organization on the ground - especially at the EDA level.  But that's going to take years.  And we don't have years.

Better to elect a strong leader who can motivate voters with her speaking style, her charisma, her passion, and (best yet) her experience.  Let our #elxn44 candidates ride her coat-tails in a dozen (or a couple of dozen) ridings.  Our focus, going forward, has to be on winning more seats.

But it won't be.  It will continue to be a mish-mash of priorities which see maybe one or two things getting done, while most of the rest are half-assed while a few important things prove to be just too big or too intractable to tackle.  And we'll just continue to muddle along.  Sure, maybe our national support level will drop back down to 3% in the next election - but with a new leader at the helm - someone whom voters have never heard of - well, 3%'ll be pretty good, won't it?

The Clock is Ticking

Muddling through is a legitimate path for any organization to take. In normal times, I might even be an advocate.  But with the clock ticking and time for serious climate action growing short, these aren't normal times.  I continue to believe that we can achieve so much more if we opt to work with the NDP.  And if that's just not on, then let's focus our efforts on building regional powerbases rather than trying to keep a truly national organization afloat.  But if we are going to try to hack it out nationally, let's at least find a leader whom everyone knows and get behind them as they talk about no more than three-to-five bullet points each and every day until E-Day.

Failing that, I guess we just elect whomever and hope for the best.  But if we take that course, let's not kid ourselves about the potential for success.  It's the easy way out, for sure - but it's not going to help our 5th place party.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Losing the Initiative: A Deflationary Tale of the Green Party of Canada, 2019-20

"We just lost the initiative."
"It is said that the attacking force, going into a fight, generally has the initiative...But once it becomes a defensive action, then you’re literally giving...over to the enemy and allowing them to determine the tempo of the fight." 

-Mark Bergman, F-16 Crew Chief, "What does Major General Garrison mean by “we just lost the initiative” in Black Hawk Down?"

"If you're explaining, you're losing." 

-U.S. President Ronald Reagan

I know, I know - I really hate it when others use battlefield lingo in the context of a democratic process.  I seriously try to avoid it whenever I can.  But explaining "the initiative" and how the Green Party lost it over the summer of 2019 - and how we might be able to regain it through a leadership contest - and is just so much easier when one views election campaigns as a...well, as a military campaign.

Seizing the Initiative

The initiative is important in an election campaign.  Arguably, for the first time ever, the Green Party of Canada held the initiative throughout April and into May, 2019.  A historic breakthrough in Prince Edward Island, followed by a stunning by-election upset in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, punctuated by Elizabeth May's wedding and speculation that former Liberals Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott might join the Party - all of this made the Green Party the talk of the town for a few weeks.  And the polls were showing it - in fact, the polls, as they always are, were part of the story.

And all of this was happening against a backdrop of the two large federal parties tied in a polling dead-heat, despite the SNC Lavalin scandal which had appeared to take a bit of a bite out of the Liberal Party.  More importantly for Greens, though, the polls showed the NDP languishing in third place, with support bottoming out.  In some regions of the country (the Maritimes), the Green Party had replaced the NDP as the third party.

Heading into the summer, the Green Party appeared to have momentum.  Some polls showed us with support as high as 13% in May.  If we had been able to keep building that momentum throughout the summer, and entered September with 18% or 19% support, October 2019 would have been a completely different election for the Green Party.  

Losing Momentum

Was a support level of 18% ever realistic?  Maybe, maybe not.  There were no elections/by-elections to win over the course of the summer, but there were still MP's that could have been recruited to the cause who might have led the continued building of momentum.  Think about how much more of a splash landing Pierre Nantel might have been for the Party if it had followed on the heels of recruiting Wilson-Raybould and/or Philpott.  

But it wasn't to be.  The Green Party of Canada lost momentum and was put onto the defensive throughout the summer and into the fall.  When you're explaining yourself, you're losing - and that's exactly what the Green Party was doing.

First off, the launch of our pivotal climate action plan, "Mission: Possible" was completely marred by the inclusion of Point 13 in the plan - a call for building refineries in Alberta as part of some quasi-patriotic initiative to wean Canada off of foreign oil.  I get that this has actually been a policy of the Green Party of Canada for some time - but it probably came as a bit of a surprise to many supporters and a few candidates that the Green Party was in fact calling for building new fossil fuel infrastructure.  Whether or not there was any logic to it (and there was) didn't matter - we opened the door to criticism and created doubt among voters.  We didn't have to go there - but we chose to.  It was a bad choice.

NDP MP Pierre Nantel joined the Green Party over the summer, and almost immediately there was cries that the Green Party was welcoming of 'racism' and 'bigotry'.  The Party appears to have been caught off-guard by these assertions - most of which were coming from Nantel's former Party, who appeared not to be too concerned with Nantel's bigotry when he occupied one of their seats.  But the Party ought to have known that picking up Nantel was not exactly a 'win', given comments that Nantel had previously made with regards to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and how Quebecers might not accept Singh.

Hot on the heels of Nantel and his bigoted statements came concerns that Nantel was really a separatist.  Not so, claimed May - at just about the same moment that Nantel publicly declared himself to be a sovereigntist.  For most Greens, there's not really much of a difference - but apparently there was enough nuance there for the Party to hold on to Nantel.  

All in all, Nantel's floor crossing proved to be more of a disaster for the Party than a help.

Elizabeth May came under attack by New Democrats like Charlie Angus over off-hand comments she made where she speculated that companies like SNC Lavalin could be made to pay for new water systems on First Nations reserves.  May's musings on this subject were not in keeping with member-approved policy.  And they were completely distorted by the NDP and an unfriendly media.  But May seemed intent on doubling down on this idea when she brought it up again in the Mclean's debate.  Feeding a discredited idea oxygen was a bad move, and it did not help us in the first week of the election.

A mangled CBC interview that turned a conversation about vote whipping into a criticism that the Green Party was soft on a woman's right to choose was yet another self-inflicted wound.  The interview had apparently been in the can for a few days before it was released, and yet the Party seemed ill-prepared to respond.  

And what should have been a coup for the Green Party - where a number of New Brunswick New Democrats openly declared for our Party - turned into an absolute fiasco that led to more calls that the Green Party was soft on racists.  I'm not going to recount all that happened there - but suffice it to say that the Green Party was busy explaining, and explaining, and explaining that week.

And don't even get me started about that damn photo-shopped cup!

Deflation and Defeat

With the very limited amount of media time that the Green Party receives, it's important that we use this time wisely to build momentum.  But instead, our Party found itself back on its heels, pretty much from June onwards, and especially during the first couple of weeks of the election.  And most of the wounds were self-inflicted.  By the time of the televised leader's debates, the only path forward for a good showing by the Green Party was for Elizabeth May to pull a rabbit out of her hat, knocking out Scheer, Trudeau and Singh with a single blow.

It didn't happen.

Instead, Singh had a couple of good soundbites, which was more than enough to put him over the top in what was arguably the very worst English-language leadership debate in Canadian history.  For the Greens, the NDP finding that it had the initiative heading into the last couple of weeks of the election meant that we were done.

And we were done.  That we held on to what we had on Vancouver Island and picked up Fredericton was probably the best we could have done at that point.

Back to Square One

Now, the Green Party of Canada is heading into a leadership contest that few Greens want and all are ill-prepared for.  While it is true that leadership contests can build momentum for a political party, it is not a universal truth - especially when the leader being replaces is at outsized as the one that the Green Party is losing.

Let me be clear here: no one from within our Party is going to be able to step up and fill Elizabeth May's shoes.  And that is seriously going to hurt our party going forward, as there is no way that the media won't be comparing (at every opportunity) our new leader to our former leader.

But that's not the only hurdle that a new leader is going to have to figure out a way to overcome, to seize the initiative from the other parties, and build momentum heading into an election that could be held at any time.  Let's look at a few of the other factors that are going to tamp down momentum and turn this election cycle into another "building" year (to use a sports analogy).

A Brief Contest

The Party has set October 4, 2020 as the date of the leadership contest.  That's....not a lot of time for potential contestants to put themselves out there.  Especially since just about everyone who might run for the Party suffers from a serious lack of profile.  

Couple that with the fact that the Party hasn't yet identified what mechanisms (beyond earned media) contestants will have to communicate with and influence Party members/voters, and it's likely that only those contestants that can emerge from large voting blocks will really have a chance of winning.  Think Vancouver Island or southwest Ontario here.  If a single candidate emerges from B.C., it's almost inevitable that candidate is going to have a serious advantage over, say, a candidate from Manitoba or Nova Scotia.

A longer contest would allow for our mostly-unknown contestants to become a little more identifiable by the members.  But that's not in the cards.

We've left ourselves a little vulnerable to a popular outsider swooping in to lay claim to the leadership.  And maybe that's not a bad thing (I'll certainly be making that case in a later blog where I take a look at what might be best for the Party going forward).  But it is something that could leave the party faithful a little disillusioned.  

A Constrained Leader

Unlike in other political parties, the leader of the Green Party does not get to decide policy.  Our Constitution is very clear - policy decisions are made by the membership, and our leader is to be a spokesperson only.  Elizabeth May did a very good job of acting in the capacity of constrained leader.  Sure, trying to explain how all of this works to a media that is so used to leader-driven politics was not always as successful as May or Greens like me would have liked it - but without question, for the most part, May understood her role and acted the part.  Sure, there were times where there might have been a little pushback - but over 13 years as leader of the Party, I think May did an admirable job of representing the decisions made by grassroots Greens.

Sometimes, in other parties, leadership candidates might propose a new direction for their party that may really resonate with enough members that they'll get a bit of an edge.  Recall that NDP leadership contestant Guy Caron was proposing a Basic Income at a time when his party had not endorsed the concept.  But had Caron become leader, you can bet that the NDP would have been campaigning on a full Basic Income in 2019 - rather than on a pilot project which they ultimately did campaign on.

But in the Green Party, leaders don't get to make up new policies.  If a leadership contestant wants to campaign on something new, they're going to have to go through a simultaneous process of submitting new policy proposals to the membership for consideration at the same General Meeting which will see them elected.  In other words, there is zero guarantee that a leadership contestant campaigning on a bold, new initiative, will ever be able to implement said initiative.  And that's going to be a consideration for a lot of voters.  If a contestant can't move the Party, what's the point?

And any leadership contestant that tries to spread their wings to take the party in a different direction is sure to be cut down by the other contestants - as well as by our engaged membership.

Which means that leadership contestants are largely going to have to campaign on party policy that's already been approved by the membership.  And where's the fun in that?  

Ultimately, by constraining our leader to the role of spokesperson, we members are going to have to look for who can best fill that role.  And the criteria to be a good PR person is not exactly what I think many Greens want their leader to be (but it is exactly the basis that I'll argue we should be electing our leader on, in a future post).

Ranked Ballot

The way that we will elect our leader in 2020 will also have an impact on momentum.  What I mean here is that if we set out to design a leadership contest decision-day that will produce the least drama and interest possible, we couldn't have done a better job than with our current process.  

Greens across Canada will be asked to submit ranked ballots, which will be tallied in advance of the Charlottetown General Meeting, and likely announced with as much fanfare as possible on either the last day of the meeting, or on the first night.  That may be efficient for the Party, and equitable for members, but it certainly lacks anything in the way of media appeal.

Consider some of the more entertaining and interesting leadership contests that you might remember.  Think about the drama that led to Stephane Dion being declared leader of the Liberal Party.  Even the recent events that saw Andrew Scheer emerge from second place on the 13th ballot to claim the Conservative Party's leadership - wow, there was drama there to be sure.  

The best we're going to be able to do is announce the results of each round of the ranked ballot periodically throughout the day - which the media will totally see through, knowing full well that we could just skip all of that an announce the outcome.

There are a lot of more interesting ways that we could run a leadership contest - but our Constitution is pretty clear about the format that we will use.  It's about as exciting as watching a Facebook algorithm determine which ads will pop up.

Existential Dilemma

With the era of the Elizabeth May party over - Greens are now left to figure out what it is we want to be, and where we should be going.  When May was in the leader's role - despite her role as constrained leader - it was pretty clear to everybody that the success of the Party was clearly tied to May's own success.  When asked about how the Green Party might fare in the October election, I told whomever would listen that we needed to strap ourselves to Elizabeth May's back and go along for the ride.

But with May gone, we're already seeing some of the old tensions rising to the surface.  Loosely put, there are those in our Party that want our Party to be a successful political party, electing enough MP's so that we may exert some influence in parliament.  And then there are those in our Party who are less concerned about winning elections than about driving a political narrative that includes elements that are cutting edge, if presently politically unpalatable on the one hand, and other elements that can be adopted by other parties on the on the other hand.  

I'll refer to this division as the "Party" vs. "Movement", going forward, while recognizing that most Greens probably don't fit comfortably into just one camp.

This type of tension, though, isn't something that the other political parties generally experience during a leadership contest.  Yes, sometimes party members are confronted with choices about whether a particular contestant might be 'electable' - but are they ever challenged by the notion that electability really just doesn't matter?

This is a hard one for me to discuss in a way that does it justice, as I am so very much on the "Party" side that I have a difficult time comprehending just where Movement-types in my own party might be coming from.  Yes, I get that the bar for 'progressive' policy is always moving, and what might have been an unelectable position yesterday is no longer such today.  Let's use veganism as an example here: I acknowledge that it is good and moral and on the right side of history for the Green Party to support far more aggressive pro-animal/vegan policies than we currently have on the books.  But I'm not personally ready to go there because I don't believe that we will experience any success as a political party with an aggressive pro-animal agenda.  However, for others in my party, whether we experience success in electing MP's just isn't as important as doing what's right from a values-informed perspective.

It's not easy.  And any leadership contestant stepping forward is going to have to wrestle with some of this.  The good news for leadership contestants here might be to simply defer to what the Party's Constitution would have them be: a spokesperson only, committed to whatever policies grassroots Greens deem appropriate.

But that's not showing a lot of 'leadership' now is it?

Going forward, we Greens are going to have to figure this out.  I expect we won't - and that we'll just continue to muddle through, trying to be everything to everyone and not doing a very good job of it.  When we had a leader that was bigger than the Party, we could get away with that.  Going forward, I think this is going to be a problem.

Where Can We Find Momentum?

The Green Party of Canada can look for momentum in two areas, I believe. The first is the success of provincial Green Parties. With B.C. and New Brunswick likely going to the polls before the next federal election, it could very well be that success in either of those provinces could lead to national momentum.  It happened before with PEI - it could certainly happen again.  

But setbacks in either region (and especially in B.C.) will be huge obstacles for the national party to overcome.

A second place we might find momentum is in the new leader themselves.  If we elect someone with a big enough profile, you can bet that the media will be more interested than if we opt for someone with a more regional profile.  Think Jody Wilson-Raybould over, say, Adriane Carr.  Or David Suzuki/Naomi Klein over David Merner.  Or Kathleen Wynne over Alex Tyrrell for that matter (will someone please ask Kathleen for her thoughts on all of this, Jo-Ann Roberts!)

And note that in my examples of "big profile people" I've not identified anyone in our Party who would qualify.   With limited time, and an election coming up somewhere around the corner, if we want to avoid years of building the Party - if we want to seize the initiative - we need a leader with a big profile from outside of the Party to step forward.

And if that doesn't happen, with electoral reform on the back-burner for the next decade or more, maybe it's time we Party people give the whole thing a rethink.  After all, how much influence can a 5th-place national party really exert?  How much time will we have to explain ourselves to voters in the next election?  My bet is that it won't be as much as we were given in 2019.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)