Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vision Green 2010: A Full-On Assault on the Existing Political Culture of Apathy

Over the past little while, I’ve been reading articles from various mainstream media, and watching journalists on TV lament the current state of affairs amongst Canada’s top parties. Particularly, journalists and pundits have been crying that the major parties lack direction and vision, and really have nothing to offer the Canadian electorate, aside from defining themselves as who they are not. The Liberal Party under Michael Ignatieff’s leadership has particularly been singled out as not really standing for much of anything, except as a Party not led by Stephen Harper. Some have speculated that the Liberal’s lack of direction and vision is the result of a "safe" plan of attack for the next election. The theory goes that Stephane Dion released too much information into the public realm regarding what he would do differently if he were made Prime Minister, which left him open to attacks from the Conservatives. And attack they surely did.

Maybe there is some merit to keeping silent. However, it has been really frustrating to watch the Liberals refrain from speaking out about much of anything, and using non-binding weasel words most often when they do deign to speak. Sure, maybe the pundits have it right, and this is part of an election strategy. But don’t Canadians deserve better?

Jack Layton has been a little more forthcoming with what the NDP would do differently if they formed government, but even these pronouncements leave one scratching their head regarding what the NDP’s true vision of a future Canada is. The NDP under Layton have become a political chameleon, changing their skin when it best suits them. Witness Layton’s decision to have his party support the Harper government on a fall confidence vote, reversing years-long policy of non-support for the benefit of passing a flawed Employment Insurance bill which was but a shadow of what Layton said he’d previously support. Yes, it put off having an election which people didn’t want, but it gave us more of Stephen Harper, a commodity that a lot of us would also rather do without.

The NDP have flip-flopped on all sorts of principled issues, especially those pertaining to climate change. Instead of embracing a form of carbon pricing which experts throughout the world acknowledge as being workable and successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the NDP remain opposed to a carbon tax, and have instead embraced an industry-friendly cap and trade scheme which is sure to keep the price of carbon hidden from consumers, and punish the most vulnerable in our society. Even today, the NDP continues to maintain that a carbon tax is the wrong way of pricing carbon; look no further than the attack on the B.C. Liberal’s during the spring provincial election.

No, the NDP don’t offer a whole lot when it comes to vision for this country, but at least they have shown a few of their cards, unlike the Liberals, who may not even be holding any cards.

And if the Liberals and NDP are bad, well, the Conservatives want you to think that you’re living in a fantasy-land where economic recovery will do away with structural deficits, where taxes need never be raised, and only redundant programs are cut. The Conservative’s approach is actually worse than that of the Liberals and NDP: rather than saying next to nothing, they’re selling Canadians a fairy-tale story.

Where, then, is a vision for a realistic future for which Canadians can cast their ballots? If the current way of thinking about elections is to say as little as possible about what your party would do when in power for fear of being skewered by your opponents, or standing up for your principles only when they don’t conflict with polling, or whistling "Don’t Worry, Be Happy", what is a Canadian to do?

Well, keeping true to its principles, and not worrying about being attacked for its vision, yesterday the Green Party of Canada released "Vision Green 2010", a powerful and comprehensive document of where the Greens would take Canada given the opportunity. This updated document addresses issues important to Canadians, putting everything the Greens have to offer on the table, and telling the other Parties to go ahead and find fault. This is not some glossy picture-laden "Red Book" of promises not to be kept; it’s a full-on assault on the current culture of apathy which exists in our Federal system.

Vision Green 2010 calls for over-riding and fundamental changes to Canada based on the shared values of Canadians. For too long, our government has been beholden to special interests who do not have our best interests first and foremost in their minds. We have tolerated environmental, economic and social destruction at the expense of increasing profits. To mitigate, we’ve talked about sustainable development as a "nice to have", rather than a fundamental over-riding principle for decision-making.

The Green Party understands that the course Canada is on is perilous in the extreme, and without fundamental changes to the way in which our government conducts its business, the interests of the majority will never be paramount. Instead, the casino economy created by the biggest and wealthiest players will continue to jeopardize our future and that of our children. Without recognition that there are limits to growth, our current system is headed for disaster. Yet the other political parties aren’t telling you any of this.

I was very pleased to see that some of the updates made to Vision Green are based on the notion that the end of inexpensive fossil fuels is upon us. This is the reality in which we are living; yet you’re not hearing Harper, Layton or Ignatieff discuss peak oil and what that means for our communities, industries and our lifestyle built around a culture of cars. Whether we like it or not, our situation is changing, and we should proactively plan for change, rather than react when it is thrust upon us.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Vision Green 2010 is a heavy read. But it’s also presents an incredibly enlightened and optimistic view of Canada’s future, if only the wherewithal to actually implement these necessary changes could be found. Yes, Greens will undoubtedly be bashed for many of the bold initiatives proposed in Vision Green 2010. Certainly there are those out there who are opposed to change, and who will continue to insist that it doesn’t have to happen. That point of view, however, is not grounded in our current reality, and should be dismissed. So let the dinosaurs bash away.

If the pundits are looking for bold vision and initiative, here it is. Yes, it’s the little Green Party who has the strongest, most comprehensive vision for Canada, and that might surprise many. I hope that more and more people take a look for themselves. I hope that they will see that a bright and sustainable future is within our grasp if we have the courage to initiate truly fundamental changes, starting with our taxation system. Getting the price right, eliminating corporate subsidies for the biggest players, and finally putting a price on pollution, are the starting points to creating a sustainable Canada.

Go and take a look for yourself. Browse through the Table of Contents and find a few issues which are important to you. Take a look and see what Greens would do differently. You may be excited about what you read.


Line Merrette, femme et Verte said...

I'M in a hurry but I want to thank you for this very interesting entry which I will come back to read again later. It seems a lot of people are disturbed by what the NDP is doing at the moment! Bonne soirée!

femme et Verte (Line Merrette) said...

Punish the MOST vulnerable, I believe you meant

Ken Summers said...


You must not know anything about the actual NDP climate change plan, or you would know that Layton and the NDP have not flip-flopped.

All you know is that it isn't the Green plan, and does not favour the carbon tax. You have no idea why.

There are policy reasons for having cap and trade as part of the overall package, and the overall package is what counts. There is also a political 'subtext' to it- as there is to the Green plan.

Not surprisingly I think the NDP's is better on both policy and politics. But I dont really want to get into that again.

The point being that the NDP has a plan, which it came out with before the Greens, to which it is consistent, and not surprisingly it is not explainable as being 'not the Green plan'.

Sudbury Steve said...

Line, thank you for pointing out my mistake...I certainly did mean "most vulnerable" not "least vulnerable". I've changed my post accordingly.

Ken, I do happen to know a thing or two about the NDP's climate change plan, and I'm well aware that this plan has been out for more than a few years now. In fact, it's one of the main reasons that I'm not a member of the NDP. I realize that you don't want to hash it out here, and that we'll not agree on this matter, and I'm largely fine with that. However, suggesting that the NDP Plan isn't politically motivated while the Green Plan is motivated by politics is just absurd.

The NDP was the first to propose cap and trade as a method of pricing carbon. This was admittedly before the experiential failure of the Euro cap and trade system (which priced carbon too low, and allowed for the accumulation of credits over time). With this additional information now available, the NDP haven't tweaked their plan in any significant way. Cap and trade, under an NDP regime, will continue to be about "being seen" to take action on the environment, rather than actually accomplishing much of anything.

What it will do is create benefit for the business community engaged in this sort of trading activity: in other words, it'll make money for the bankers and financiers. A very strange outcome indeed for an NDP initiative. No wonder both the Liberals and the Conservatives have recently begun taking hold of this NDP idea.

Yes, I'll concede that a cap and trade system is probably better than the status quo, and that it will likely lead to small reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But it doesn't get us to where we need to be quickly enough, and it will create unacceptable risk along the way. It's a boondoggle in the making.

Ken Summers said...

I don't think it serves anyone, ourselves included, to hash this out here.

But I didn't say that the GPC plan was politically motivated while the NDP was not. I said they both had a political 'subtext'... unspoken political strategic reasons for choosing them... no intention to put value judegements on them.

I was taking exception with you saying the NDP has flip flopped. And I still think thats 180 wrong.

As to whether the NDP should stick with cap and trade- I'm not convinced that its the booddoggle it is made out to be fated to be [and those thoughts and supporting evidence were around 3 years ago when the NDP made its choice].

The reality is that WHICH form of carbon pricing we should choose is just not politically relevant at the moment.

By the time it comes around to time for the NDP to actively update, it may well feature some kind of carbon tax based PACKAGE.

But its the overall package that matters, not whether it is carbon tax or cap and trade or both. On that account I think the Green promise of absolute revenue neutrality is [was?] political pandering and a dangerous fiscal trojan horse if it had traction. You may have seen me make that argument on Babble... though it would have to be before the 2008 election. But I wasn't making that argument now.

I really was just taking exception with you saying the NDP flip flopped on carbon pricing.


Sudbury Steve said...

Ken, I absolutely do not agree that the format for carbon pricing isn't "politically relevant" at the moment. In fact, I think it's entirely relevant, because one form of pricing (a carbon tax) will lead to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, while a cap and trade form of pricing will do little to reduce emissions once all of the exceptions etc., are worked into it. So I'm sorry, but I can't agree with that.

However, if the rest of your party agreed with you that the format of pricing wasn't a relevant consideration, I don't think I would have suggested that the NDP has flip-flopped on carbon pricing. The fact is that during the last election the NDP mercilessly attacked the Liberal carbon tax as wrong-headed. Clearly the federal party was very concerned about the format of pricing. It's apparent to me that the NDP is only supportive of carbon pricing on their terms, which really leads me to question their overall commitment to taking action on the environment.

If you say you're in favour of action, but then you do all that you can to denigrate a plan which would lead to action, I think that leaves one open to "flip flop".

The Green Party, as far as I can tell, is silent on cap and trade. Our Leader, however, is on record with her tentative support for a cap and trade system, suggesting that at least it would be "better than nothing".

So yes, I'm sorry, I see this as a politically motivated flip-flop, unnecessarily confusing the issue.

As far as my own party's committment to "revenue neutrality" goes, well...perhaps for the government, yes, but probably not for the consumer. I can't see it working any other way than having winners and losers. For the losers who can't afford to be losers, though, there are some excellent policy solutions, including the Guaranteed Annual Income, and people earning below $20,000 won't pay federal income tax.

Ken Summers said...

Its a myth that the NDP "mercilessly attacked" the Dion program. You are all entitled to be aggrieved that we didn't fall into line behind the Liberal program, but don't fluff that up into a "flip flop".

How can it be a flip flop when we chose our program first, and staked on that... then stuck to it. [And remember it was originally the Liberal program as well... they even put out a White Paper on it, complete with arguments against the carbon tax. Granted, they just lifted it from the NDP. But it was their plan, and when May announced the Green Vision she contrasted the climate change package to the "Liberal-NDP plan"... her words.]

You were saying about flip-flop.

Nor did we "mercilessly attack" the Dion [flip flop] carbon tax. If you weren't looking to pick a fight you'd have seen that Jack mentioned it as little as possible, and in fact spent more than a full week of the leader's tour during the campaign emphasising the green initiatives that were the larger part of the NDPs package. And making the commitment to spend the precious campaign time despite polling showing that the issue was pretty much off the radar. Did Elizabeth May spend anywhere near that proportion of her campaign time specifically pushing green spending and climate change ideas?

Jack did frequently talk about the Dion plan- he had to. To the media 'climate change' and 'Dion plan' were synonomous. We made a choice 2 years before to keep our distance from the carbon tax... that it would be an albatross to drag everything down. [Which wasn't rocket science.] So do you think we're going to change that- flip-flop- with an election coming up? No thank you.

So Jack had to differentiate us from the sinking ship. If you ever heard Jack in longer interviews he'd say there may be a place for the carbon tax, but its the wrong place to start. You probably didn't hear one of those interviews, but what is good for the goose is good for the gander: how many people outside the GPC read the Green Vision and could tell you how all the elements of the climate action plan worked together?

And thats just my opinion by the way that what form of carbon pricing is not top burner right now. But thats hardly a point to attack someone- its merely observing that right now when we have nothing, and even a public that is less concerned about the urgancy of doing something definite- it at least is a strong argument that WHICH form of carbon pricing is hardly the primary concern.

And by the way- green spending initiatives are at least as important as the carbon pricing. That is even more true with the carbon tax... which without a firm commitment to green initiatives is nothing... which is why the Dion plan was just the appearance of doing something. We have gotten more carbon pricing already from the market than is in any carbon tax plans, and by itself that has achieved piss all. Carbon taxes have succeeded only where there are aggressive green spending initiatives going on at the same time.

JimBobby said...

Cap and trade is a market mechanism favoured by free-traders, big business and the Americans. As I recall, it was never ruled out by GPC policy. As I understand it, the tax shift/carbon tax policy is the GPC's first choice due to the fact that its impact and effects will be realized more quickly than C&T. I haven't scoured the new Vision Green completely, but the old version allowed for C&T to be implemented in specific sectors as an addition to carbon taxation.

I think the GPC is amenable to including C&T as a part of the policy along with carbon tax (CT). From what I've read of the NDP policy, they see C&T only without CT. GPC is calling for a two-pronged approach. NDP for a one-pronged approach.

These days, I'm all for cooperation between the parties. In the comments above, I see Steve arguing GPC is right, NDP is wrong and Ken arguing the opposite. If we really want to do what's best for the planet -- and get the anti-Earth HarperCons out of power -- we need to look at all party platforms and policies and admit that the other guys have a few good ideas. Well, except for the Con's. ;-)

We also need to be diligent in selling the good ideas. Dion basically adopted the GPC tax shift and called it the Liberal Green Shift. After a summer of "recalibration", significant changes were made that essentially watered down the GPC policy to something the Grits thought they'd be better able to sell.

The big problem was they had Dion for a salesman. Dion couldn't sell free water to a thirsty man.

The unfortunate result was that a good, well-thought out GPC policy was turned into political poison. Try running on a carbon tax today. You'd be lucky to get 9.4% of the popular vote.

Anyway, my take on it is that Vision Green is full of good ideas but that they aren't the only good ideas out there. Unless we can topple the dictator Harper, good ideas from the GPC, NDP, LPC or BQ will never be implemented.

Ken Summers said...

Look Steve, I expect partisans to be less than up to speed on the policies and programs of other parties.

So it goes with the territory that they take their complete policy, even adding in 'good intentions' that are not part of what the public package, and they 'compare' that to what is at best a limited understanding of the other party[s] program, and likely a baudlerized version as well.

So generally I stay away from this. Besides which, on most issues I couldn't give a fair rendition of Green policies on their own terms. Which means that in most cases, even if I made an effort to be fair, I'd be doing a similar hatchet job on the policies of other parties that I object having done to mine.

But in this case it happens that I'm intimately acquainted with all the parties plans and what their evolution.

Sudbury Steve said...

Ken, I always respect your opinion, and I acknowledge you as an expert on the Party's plans. There's no disagreement there. Yes, I think we could quibble on the mechanism all day long and we'd still be no further ahead. I'm not sure JimBobby captured our mutual right/wrong feelings completely, as I think we both realize that there is actual value to the environment for both C&T and a carbon tax. And we both certainly agree that either approach is a waste of time without the spending initiatives, so I don't think we're as far apart as it appears.

But I will completely disagree with you that you're not able to argue the finer points of my Party's policies! You've clearly taken the time to get to know your opponents, and you always raise issues in a respectful way, rather than crapping all over them.

Chris KN said...

Here I go again, Steve. Having to point out to you that the NDP did Canadians the biggest favour possible by not taking Harper down. We didn't get a perfect EI package, but we got one that was way better than anything the Liberals ever got. At the time, Harper was in majority territory and now look where he is. You need to stop beating that dead horse and thank Jack Layton for saving us from a possible Conservative majority.

I'm sorry, but it's easy for the Greens to sit on a lofty perch and criticize politicians for engaging in politics, without ever having elected an MP. The Greens have never had to make such a decision as to whether or not they should allow neo-Cons to continue in power with checks and balances or risk giving them unlimited power for the potential reward of having Michael Ignatieff become prime minister.

Frankly, having gotten to know Elizabeth May in one way or another in the past few years, I'm 99% sure that she would have taken the same road. Here's someone who continually says she would raise the level of decorum in the House if she were elected, but used her one and only opportunity to have a national platform at the leaders debate to do nothing but launch attacks at her opponents. She also made a cynical deal with the Liberals to undermine local EDA autonomy in a vein attempt to get herself elected.

As for Vision Green, I would have about as much faith that Elizabeth May would follow that document if elected as I do in her caring about Green values as the leader of the party. Not very much.

I look forward to your spirited reply!


Chris KN said...

Now about carbon tax vs. cap and trade:

I spent a lot of time over the past couple years thinking about the Green carbon tax plan and I'm convinced that it is the plan most likely to hurt vulnerable people. I'll take cap and trade every day of the week.

Any carbon cutting plan can work from an environmental standpoint if done right and enforced well. But a revenue-neutral carbon tax will only lead to one outcome for our economy: Canadians making the least money will be left to shoulder the tax burden.

When our tax system is weighted on taxing carbon, instead of income, those with the most income and savings will quickly reduce their carbon output and pay less taxes. A good thing for the environment, sure, but our government won't be getting any revenue from them for health care, social security, education, etc. These are also important issues to take into consideration.

Meanwhile, the poorest people in Canada, who can't afford new fuel-efficient cars or to retrofit their homes (or who rent and pay their own energy bills and have no say on whether their buildings are energy efficient) will be saddled with the tax burden.

A cap and trade system isn't perfect, but it will put the emphasis where it should be. It sets a limit on carbon and gives industry (the biggest contributors to green house gases) a mechanism to reach those targets. Costs will have to be passed down, sure, but no more than it would be with a carbon tax. I would argue less so.

Ken Summers said...

Understandably, the release of the new Vision Green lifts the spirits of members.

But it is written to spread the word, and where is it?

Let alone you can't find a single media hit for it, the GPC hasn't even posted anything about it on the website.

It is a member that posted about it in his blog:

By Don Rawls on 25 January 2010 - 8:09pm

This week, in a cross-country launch, the Green Party of Canada unveiled a series of key policies that together would work to bring Canada out of the current structural deficit and into a new green economy.

Since we don’t all check the “newsroom” and this received little MSM attention I have posted the link here on the blog pages where it may see more light of day.


"Little MSM attention" ? Try zero.

"We don't all check the newsroom." But its not there anyway.

And "cross-country launch"? Where? Even within the GPC, let alone to the public it is written for.

In Report on Green I posted this comparison to the launch Of Green Vision I, when you at least still had a Leader with some actual presence outside the GPC bubble:

I remember the roll out of Green Vision I in 2007 spring / early summer.

Big policy documents barely count as news to the media, and that much less coming from the GPC [or the NDP].

But its existence was reported on, and May did frequently work bits of it- particularly the 'revenue neutral' carbon tax- into the media opportunities she got and had back then.

緊張 said...
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