Friday, November 13, 2009

An Intersection of Crises: Thinking Ahead About the GPC

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of dark, personal pondering about the future of democracy in Canada. The pondering has been dark, because the journey that I’ve taken myself on has led me to the conclusion that democracy in Canada at the national level is in trouble in the short and medium term. I believe that this trouble will be caused by an intersection of crises, some of which we already find ourselves in the midst of. These crises include: climate change; Peak Oil and the end of inexpensive energy; shortages of food & water; poverty; governmental budgetary deficits; security and democracy.

Significant issues arising from the intersection of these crises will be exacerbated by a lack of a national conversation amongst our governments, businesses and industries, and Canadians in general. A conversation regarding what we must do to better position ourselves for this dark, emergent future, will not take place for several reasons, including: a lack of desire on the part of elected officials, for fear of being voted out of office; a lack of desire on the part of our business community to fundamentally change current business practices; a mainstream media which has largely been consolidated into the hands of a few corporate elites not wanting to rock the boat; apathy on the part of Canadians in general, resulting from the above, along with fundamentally being held back by other parties should Canadians wish to engage.

As a result of a lack of a discussion about the future, I believe that democracy is likely to suffer in the name of security, as many of the things we have come to take for granted as Canadians become scarcer, and we are forced to change our lifestyles. I believe that the Canadian economy will not recover in the medium and long terms, and that we can expect rising prices for food and energy, increasing job losses, and a much higher level of poverty and homelessness than we’ve been accustomed to. Due to over-spending on “stimulus” initiatives, and due also to rising health care costs associated with an aging demographic, our federal and provincial governments will find themselves in a compromised position, and will not be able to effectively deal with this intersection of crises.

This will leave Canadian communities to deal with issues more independently than they have in the past. With a rise in localism, the role played by our federal and provincial governments will assuredly decrease. In the short term, however, we may see an increase in North American-based solutions to maintain our lifestyles, but as the systems continue to break down, localism will prevail. If democracy is remain a healthy and alive, it will be at municipal and neighbourhood levels.

I’ve documented as best as I can how I’ve managed to arrive at these conclusions through a series of 10 blogposts on my blog, titled: “The Future of Canadian Democracy: A Personal Journey.”

I realize that you may not agree with my analysis, and that you may not share my admittedly grim assertions regarding the future. Certainly, I hope that the crises I’ve identified do not come about at all, but as Bill Hulet would say, “You can’t be a Jiminey Crickett, Steve.” As I can’t simply wish upon a star for a brighter future, I feel that it’s probably wise to plan for a future which will almost certainly be quite different from our present today.

We may have found ourselves at the peak of global oil production. With no alternative in sight to replace oil as the means to power the myriad of processes on which we’ve come to depend for our quality of life, we can expect that quality of life to change. In the short term, we can expect to pay more to maintain things the way that they are, but in the medium term, we clearly are going to be forced to change our ways. Investments in alternative energy will be of assistance, but renewable energy production alone will not replace the inexpensive energy we have enjoyed through our exploitation of cheap oil.

As we emerge into this future, is the Green Party of Canada in a position to offer Canadians a viable alternative to the other mainstream parties? Do we, as an organization, represent a direction of thought and policy which is complimentary to actions which we will need to take as a society to adapt to the changing conditions which we will face? If not, are we nimble enough as an organization to adapt our own plans, policy and platform so that we are able to offer the best solutions?

Moreover, do we even want to go down that road, knowing that if we try to engage Canadians in such a conversation about the future, we reduce our electability.

It’s been my perception that the Green Party of Canada offers a largely optimistic view point of Canada’s future, predicated on the notion that we need to start making (in some cases significant) changes to various systems. Particularly, putting a price on carbon and changing our taxation system stand out. Beyond that, to address our increasing democratic deficit and to kick-start an adult conversation amongst Canadians about the future, changes to our electoral processes are necessary. Finally, we will need to engage the international community on a more sensible playing field.

If we can make these changes, the Green Party offers Canadians hope and prosperity. I believe that this is a very good thing, and I will continue to put my efforts into striving for this kind of future for myself and for my family. Since the other political parties are mired in the old way of doing business, I don’t see any hope for change on the scale we need to get us to where we should be going. For me, only the Green Party offers such hope.

However, I don’t see our society embarking on the project of undertaking the changes we need to make to get us to that bright future. In the face of inaction and indeed failure, at the hands of Canada’s other political parties, where might the GPC find itself in a future when we’ve gone past the point of being able to offer a bright and compassionate viewpoint to Canadians while keeping a straight face?

I believe that the Green Party may be faced with having to choose between two possible futures. In the first, we will have to re-evaluate our policies, and with an eye towards implementation, figure out which of our policies can be implemented in an age of dwindling resources, versus those policies which no longer make economic sense given the changing conditions on the ground. There may need to be more of a focus on adaptation, rather than about mitigation. This may very well impact some of the GPC’s “sacred cows”, including our policies on nuclear energy and the need to shut down corporate welfare to the tar sands. I’ll refer to this as a “Revised Fundi” approach.

In the alternative, the Green Party will have to re-evaluate whether we continue offer ourselves up as a rational, science-based and policy driven Party which gives the straight goods to Canadians, and instead move towards a more a populous platform in the face of increasing adversity. This may lead to electing more MP’s, but it almost would certainly water-down what it means to be Green. Instead of being driven by policy, we will be driven by politics. I’ll refer to this as the “Pragmatic” approach.

Interestingly, this is in part the conundrum faced by Green Parties across the globe. Do we stick to our fundamentals, or do we become political pragmatists?

I’ll add to the conundrum, though: I think some of the fundamentals (what I referred to as “sacred cows” above) will end up being albatrosses around our necks in a future where decision-making is hamstrung by difficult economic realities precipitated by the very crises we Greens have been trying to stave off. In the face of the intersection of crises I anticipate, I do not consider the continuation of fundi Green politics to have much of a hope of finding resonance with Canadians. Simply put, it must be abandoned, or the Party will fade to obscurity.

By way of a quick example: with a desire on the part of North Americans to continue with our way of life, and with one of the world’s largest remaining deposits of oil beneath the surface of Alberta, is shutting down the tar sands in the name of combating climate change realistic? Is it perhaps more realistic to think that oil will continue to be wrung out of the tar sands to power the North American military-industrial complex? OK, maybe we can process the oil in a cleaner way (carbon capture and storage might do this, but I’m a cynic about that). Either way, though, will Canadians and Americans really stand for closing down the tar sands when oil reaches $2 a litre? What about when it gets to $4 a litre? Perhaps if there were an alternative fuel, but what if there isn't?

I believe that the Party has been moving in the direction of the “Pragmatic” approach for some time now, and that we will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, as much as this has offended some deep (or “fundi”) Greens. I also believe that this is likely going to be the only way that we’re going to elect any Green MP’s in the short term. As the future crises begin to unfold, however, I have to seriously question whether the Pragmatic approach and the policies we advocate today will be enough to first engage Canadians regarding the issues, and secondly to find viable solutions. In short, I believe that the future we are heading towards is going to require some fairly radical actions, and I do not believe that the Green Party is positioning itself to undertake such actions in light of the fact that we are on the road to moderation and political pragmatism.

I guess that I would argue that neither the fundamental or the pragmatic alternatives are going to get us to where we need to be if we are to become that viable alternative to the other political parties. A “Revised Fundamental” approach may be the best, but even that may not be enough.
If Greens formed government today, we would be strategically positioned to implement our vision and to take action against some of the crises. If we were forced to govern when these crises have become a little more mature, I’m not certain that our current policies and direction will offer the sorts of solutions Canadians will need in that darker future.

Who then is in a better position than we Greens? Well, on the surface, certainly the other Parties don’t seem to harbour the sorts of radical policy directions I believe will be necessary for Canada in the coming future. But that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be able to shift gears more quickly and comprehensively than we Greens would. By way of example, I point to former Progressive Conservative Premier of Ontario Mike Harris, whose Party was able to transform my province in a very significant and meaningful way in just a few short years. Make no mistake: his transformation was a radical one in many respects. Perhaps not on the scale which I am considering radical, but fairly radical nonetheless.

With the sort of future I believe we are facing, I believe that it is likely that Canadians will continue to turn to those political parties who offer te hope that we can continue with the status quo, even in the face of the on-coming crises. The message will be easy to deliver in the short term, albeit a bald-faced lie. Canadians are likely to continue to elect political representatives which mislead us about the future. Politicians who paint a portrait of the future which looks a lot like the present are likely to remain popular. Heck, I would love for our future to unfold in such a way...but I just don’t see it happening.

What kinds of radical changes might a Liberal or Conservative majority government engage in to address the crises in Peak Oil or climate change? Might they simply fall back on trying to “stimulate” the economy through corporate and personal tax cuts? Would those changes be comprehensive enough to do much in the way of assisting with the crises, or would they be piecemeal and reactionary? Based on what I’ve seen from these parties to date, I have little hope that they would offer the sort of vision and guidance we need to see our nation through these coming times of difficulty.

And if the Green Party stays on the same course it appears to have set itself on, I have to wonder about our own ability to muster the courage to speak frankly with Canadians about the sorts of actions which we must undertake in order to salvage what we can from increasingly dangerous situations. Our “pragmatic” message of hope and optimism may have be tempered by a dose of reality.

Faced with difficult choices, any political party in power is going to have to pick winners and losers, because the party will be hamstrung by a lack of cash. That means that there will have to be write-offs: certain segments of our society will lose out, whether it will be certain industries, or communities, or demographic segments of our population. Depending on which Party is in power, I think that these write-offs might occur in different ways. Whoever the losers end up being, there should at least be an informed public policy discussion taking place at some level before policies are implemented. Depending on who is in power, that discussion may not occur. It is clearly one that all Canadians should be engaged in right now.

Can we Greens change? Yes we can, but as I see Canada itself changing, so too do I believe that the Green Party which emerges out of the present may be quite different from today's Party. That's if we figure out a way to maintain relevance with voters. A sacred cow approach to policy will likely not endear us to voters, yet a pragmatic approach may simply transform us into something akin to the Liberal Party. Clearly, we ourselves need to have our own conversation about where we see our future in light of the intersection of crises we are now facing.

Food for thought?


John Ogilvie said...

Steve, as I've said before, you make good points, but at excessive length.

If you could rewrite this interesting post but cut it by 2/3, I'd look forward to reading it.

Sebastian Ronin said...

It's good to see a federalist Green at least poking gingerly around the edges. A gingerly poke is better than none at all.

I would simply add that the meta-condition is Post-Peak Oil. First to collapse will be the physical infrastructure, followed by the institutional infrastructure, the industrial nation-state inclusive. Where and how this strands the GPC is open to perception and opinion. I certainly have mine.

Green Assassin Brigade said...

There is certainly a problem as a Green in trying to be honest without scaring the hell out of our potential voters.

I'm a doomer and I don't see a perfect answer to the problems of peak oil and global warming just scenarios that allow various levels of mitigation. I know this vibe will not attract enough people the party to achieve power, yet the pie in the sky “techno fix greens” are delusional or dishonest at best but still cannot compete with the bold face lies and promises of the 2(3) big parties.

I know I could be a Candidate yet I know my "End is Nigh" beliefs would soon slip out and not be attractive to the masses. Even as it is people have complained to me that they currently see the Greens as being too negative, and mostly against things not for things,( hell I don't think we are blunt enough.)

Is this a packaging issue or are we simply hitting the wall in support because we’ve reached the “aware” types, leaving only the finger in their ears chanting “la la la la we can’t hear you” types?

I'm also starting to think that our future problems are going to require moslty local answers as peak oil makes the world larger again, and perhaps provincial and local municipal targets are better matches for many of the changes we need. So where do I spend my effort when there are not enough of us on the ground to do all that needs doing?

Sebastian Ronin said...

Re "I'm a doomer and I don't see a perfect answer to the problems of peak oil and global warming just scenarios that allow various levels of mitigation."

And now we have Global WarmingGate to stir into the mix. Will Greens be able to un-couple while carefully handling damage control, especially a Green like E. May who has married herself the Goracle?

Sudbury Steve said...

Sebastian, perhaps you could explain your conmments regarding "Global WarmingGate" and marriage to the Goracle for those of us (including me) not yet in the loop?

Always a pleasure to hear from you!

Sebastian Ronin said...

Steve, here's a fairly succinct overview written shortly after the news broke on the 19th:

Of course, we all get to judge for ourselves. IMO, this is a bullet aimed directly at Copenhagen...and to that I say: Go fer it!

As of to-day, the latest events are: 1./ 30,000 scientists launch a class-action against Al Gore; 2./ five Australian MP's resign on grounds of climate fraud.

Greens may find themselves back where they were 25 years ago, and that would be fine by me, i.e. decentralization and bioregionalism...with basic environmental concerns, i.e. if a halt were put to gutting the lungs of the planet, then "global warming" might not even be a concern. And anyway, you and I are prepped for the die-off anyway, right? =;-D

Anonymous said...

Casual concurrence

Anonymous said...

Prompt reply, attribute of mind :)

Sebastian Ronin said...

Hey, it's only time. =;-D

Anonymous said...

Bravo, your idea simply excellent

Anonymous said...

If you don’t make mistakes you don’t make anything.