Friday, July 3, 2015

Orange Sleaze: The NDP’s Fact-Free Smears of the Green Party

There used to be a time when New Democrats wouldn’t lower themselves to uttering the name of the “Green Party” or its leader, out of fear that acknowledging its existence would lend legitimacy to the Party.  It’s 2015 now, and all of that has changed.   With the Green Party now polling at around 16% in British Columbia, the NDP appears to be in the midst of launching an all-out smear campaign against the Greens.

The filthy mist rising from the ranks of BC’s NDP is starting to waft westward, across the country.  Rather than taking the Green Party on based on policies or other issues, what I and many others who are paying attention are seeing instead is an effort to malign and marginalize the Green Party based on innuendo, spin, distorting the facts and just plain making things up.  Of course, the NDP are the masters of this game (although the Conservative Party has certainly given the NDP a good run for its money in recent years) – the use of sleazy tactics has long been one of the aspects of the New Democratic Party which has completely turned me and others off.

Sleaze Starts at the Top, Flows Downhill

While many might want to write the recent disgusting attacks off as the work of a few anonymous NDP muck-raking partisans, the fact is that the direction here is coming from the top.  Back in November, 2014, just before the Lima COP conference, the NDP issued a release about a Green Party fundraising email in which the Green Party “attacked” the NDP for not sending delegates to COP conferences (see: “Elizabeth May’s climate conference hypocrisy”, NDP, November 4, 2014).  The release goes on to criticize Elizabeth May, inferring her hypocrisy on attending international environmental conferences by selectively using a quote from May which – on the surface – is quite critical of flying to international conferences.

Of course, the NDP revels in dealing in half-truths.  What the release didn’t say was that the quote from Elizabeth May wasn’t about the UNFCC’s COP conferences, but rather was made in response to why May was not going to the Rio +10 conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, back when May was in charge of the Sierra Club Canada in 2002 – 4 years before becoming leader of the Green Party of Canada.  As May pointed out to Mulcair and the NDP in her response, the Rio +10 conference was not in fact an international climate change negotiation (see: “Response from Elizabeth May:Dear Tom”, Green Party of Canada, November 5, 2014).  Essentially, Mulcair and the NDP have called May a hypocrite over comments May made on a matter unrelated to the matter for which the NDP branded her a hypocrite.  I’m not certain what the term is for that – so I’ll just refer to it as “sleaze”.

And although this is a minor point, it does help illustrate how the NDP likes to twist the facts or just make things up.  The so-called “fundraising email” was sent to members from Executive Director Emily McMillan.  I received it.  I can confirm that nowhere in the email were members asked to contribute funds.  As a Green Party member, I recall this being an unusual circumstance, as just about all of the emails I receive from the Party are asking for a donation somewhere in the text – but not this one.

Despite having received May’s comments and having had these issues brought to their attention, the NDP news release remains available on the NDP’s website for all to read – errors and distortions included.  Spin and fantasy sell better than hard reality and facts, I guess.

NDP Can't Challenge Greens on Issues

And there’s the rub.  Not only is it true that more compelling stories are often those that are made-up (think of any fishing story – “I caught a fish THIS big”), but it’s especially true when the facts of an issue are problematic.  And when it comes to the issues that the Green Party of Canada have been talking about – especially in British Columbia – the hard reality for the NDP is that their own party’s policies on climate change, pipelines and tankers just don’t measure up.  In fact, the NDP’s poorly conceived and uncoordinated policies are a complete hash.  Kudos to the NDP for wanting to put a price on carbon, but what’s up with wanting to expand the tar sands?  Good on the NDP for wanting to change the National Energy Board’s flawed assessment process for pipelines, along with the NDP’s opposition to Keystone XL and Northern Gateway – but the NDP’s refusal to call for a halt to Kinder Morgan and Energy East is extremely problematic.  Bravo to the NDP for wanting to ban tankers from accessing the Port of Kitimat, but it’s too bad that they don’t have the same concerns about tankers in the Port of Vancouver.

In a word, the NDP’s policies on climate change can be summed up concisely: Greenwashing.  Simply put, the NDP has no credible plan in place to address the biggest issue facing humanity in our times.  And given that the NDP was the party to introduce legislation calling for meaningful targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and has re-introduced that legislation several times now since 2006, there really is no excuse for the NDP not to have gone further and developed a full-fledged plan to take on climate change.  Frankly, the NDP has missed 9 years of moving forward on climate change.  Good targets can’t be equated with a credible plan, as we’ve seen from prior Liberal governments which endorsed reasonable targets for Canada under Kyoto, which also proved to be greenwashing. 

On the other hand, the Green Party has a very comprehensive plan in place to provide leadership for Canada on climate change.  The plan has long been available on the Party’s website, for anyone wanting to take the time to read it (see: VisionGreen, Green Party of Canada).  Recently, Elizabeth May announced a more condensed, election-ready version at a news conference in Victoria (see: “May announces Green Party’s plan to fight climate change”, ipolitics, June 15, 2015), a riding which the Green Party has been pretty clear that it is contesting with the nomination of star candidate, veteran CBC journalist Joanne Roberts (see: “Greens going after Victoria with‘all we’ve got’”, ipolitics, April 10, 2015).

Green Audacity to Run Candidates, Contest Election

Victoria is currently held by NDP MP Murray Rankin, who narrowly defeated former Green Party candidate professor Donald Galloway in a 2012 by-election.  Rankin, who came to the NDP with some pretty impressive environmental credentials (Wikipedia identifies him as an “internationally recognized expert on environmental and public law”), is that Party’s Health Critic (an extremely important portfolio for the NDP).  Many partisan Rankin supporters have taken the Green Party to task for having the audacity to oppose a man with such “green” credentials (for an example, see: “Greens disappoint with candidate decision”, Victoria Times-Colonist, January 28, 2015).

Of course, this criticism of the Green Party from the NDP is not only self-serving (the above letter was authored by Lynn Hunter, a former NDP MP, although her affiliation is not referenced in her letter to the editor) – it completely defies logic.  But Hunter is far from the only New Democrat to insinuate that something “sinister” is at play in Victoria.  NDP supporter Nicholas Ellan imagines a much broader, Green-Liberal conspiracy, based on his bizarre analysis of the sequence of the Green Party’s candidate nominations, which fail to consider that the Green Party has publicly insisted it will be running candidates in all 338 ridings (see: “Nicholas Ellan: Why Greens target NDP ridingsand Elizabeth May’s decade of Liberal deal-making”, the Georgia Straight, January 23, 2015).  Of course, in Ellan’s parochial worldview, certain parties “own” certain ridings, and parties with similar interests shouldn’t challenge one another there.  Nevermind that it’s actually the voters who get to decide whom they are going to support.  For Ellan and the NDP, Victoria and ridings like it would be declared off-limits for Greens, except for that unholy pact the Green Party has made with the Liberals!

Battleground B.C.

But seriously, why wouldn’t the Green Party contest the Victoria riding?  If Green Party members and supporters, those who have presumably come together because they share similar, if not identical values – one of which is quite likely a desire for clear and immediate action on climate change – why wouldn’t Greens want to defeat a sitting member of the New Democratic Party?  After all, the NDP has no credible plan to tackle climate change.  Rankin himself might have some really good ideas – but as an NDP member of parliament, he will do as he’s told by the Party leadership and vote in accordance with the paper instructions he’s given every day.  Rankin will have to parrot his party’s line, no matter how he might feel personally about a particular issue.  The NDP is the most whipped party in all of parliament, so looking at individual NDP MP’s as akin to interchangeable parts under the instructions of the leadership is quite appropriate. 

Rankin and other NDP candidates running in and around Vancouver and on Vancouver Island obviously see the Green Party as a threat.  In the 2013 provincial election, Greens did well in this part of B.C., electing MLA Andrew Weaver in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, and finishing a strong second place in two other ridings.  NDP insiders were critical of the Green Party in their analysis of the NDP’s election-day defeat to the Christy Clark Liberals (see: “Brian Topp Reveals How NDP Plays Cynical Partisan Games WithEnvironmental Issues”, Sudbury Steve May, September 24, 2013).  With the federal Green Party now routinely polling in the mid- to high-double digits provincially (with the prevailing thought being that a lot of that provincial support is actually concentrated geographically on the lower mainland and Vancouver Island), what’s clear is that the NDP has a problem on an unexpected flank. 

NDP: Playing the Fear Card

From the NDP’s perspective, something clearly has to be done.  And since the NDP can’t take on the Green Party over climate change, they’ve instead clearly adopted a different set of tactics, which include character assassination of Greens, including leader Elizabeth May, along with implying certain things about the Green Party based on little or no evidence, or simply making things up about what Greens stand for – which includes some pretty crazy stuff that I’ve seen, such as “Greens are against renewable energy”, and “the Green Party supports the Liberal Party”.  Often, these irrational criticisms come from anonymous NDP proxies – however, the NDP is also clearly playing the fear card, which is probably its biggest weapon against the Greens, as they try to make the case that Liberals have historically tried to make against the NDP – that the presence of Green candidates will split the vote and elect Conservatives (see: “Why is ElizabethMay helping elect Conservatives?”, the Tyee, June 25, 2015).

Even environmentalist Tzeporah Berman was sucked into the fray, as she recently called for the Green Party to change its electoral strategy.  Look, the notion that the Green Party splits the progressive vote is a prolific one – especially since our archaic first past the post electoral system awards winners based on the narrowest of margins, and sees everyone else’s votes relegated to the trash.  However, what appears to be a pretty straightforward argument, one increasingly used by New Democrats in an attempt to marginalize the Green Party, is actually anything but straightforward.


In a follow-up piece to the George Ehring evidence-free rant in the Tyee, Elizabeth May provided some significant and concrete examples of how the presence of Green candidates are actually stimulating voter participation – at least in those ridings where Greens have figured out a way to build a local profile and electoral momentum (see: “May: ‘Green Party DoesNot Split the Vote’”, the Tyee, June 27, 2015).  May’s own observations were deconstructed by Christopher Majka, who revealed a pretty good picture about what really might be at play in the minds of so-called “progressive” (read here: “non-Conservative Party) voters.  Interestingly, based on Majka’s analysis, rather than calling for Green candidates to step down to prevent vote-splitting, the NDP would be better served by calling for Liberal candidates to step aside (see: “Who Splits Whose Votes”, rabble.ca, June 30, 2015). 

Of course, at this point, calling for the Liberals or the Greens to stand down is like King Canute calling for the tides to stop coming in.  The Green Party has already nominated candidates in over 75% of Canada’s ridings.  The NDP knows this.  But that certainly isn’t going to stop the NDP from playing on the fears of voters, because the NDP knows full well that fear sells.

NDP: The Misrepresentation Game

And if fear isn’t enough to compel voters to cast their ballots for the NDP rather than the Greens, the NDP has apparently decided that it will just make things up about Elizabeth May and the Green Party, to confuse voters into thinking that Greens stand for and support things that they don’t.  Again, this starts at the top.  Back in March, NDP leader Tom Mulcair was part of an exclusive interview with the Vancouver Sun.  Discussing, possibly for the very first time, Elizabeth May and the Green Party’s view on pipelines, Mulcair made the disingenuous leap of logic that because May and Greens are opposed to new pipelines like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and TransCanada’s Energy East, that Greens must also be opposed to existing pipelines, seemingly suggesting that May and the Greens are ready to rip them out of the ground (see: “TomMulcair fights the squeeze in Metro Vancouver ridings”, the Vancouver Sun, March 17, 2015). 

Other examples of the NDP distorting the Green Party’s policies and positions are rampant, especially on Twitter, where the anonymous NDP trolls have been having a field day with the #gpc hashtag, and through tweets to @ElizabethMay. 

"Progressive" Political Parties

A lot of the noise on social media has focused on whether the Green Party is a “progressive” political party.  Lately, some of that noise has been entering into the mainstream media.  In April, CUPE head Paul Moist took a swipe at both the Liberal Party and the Green party, claiming that only the NDP was a “progressive” political party (see: “CUPE slams LeadNow for encouraging Canadians to ‘Vote Together’”, HuffPost Politics, April 13, 2015).  Since then, the Green Party’s wealth redistributing carbon fee and dividend approach to carbon pricing has come under fire from the NDP – a party which, interestingly enough, supports a carbon pricing policy which will line the pockets of brokers and lawyers. 

Canadians in general have had a hard time positioning the Green Party on Canada’s left-right political spectrum.  It was the conflicting views of some in the media as to whether the Greens were a party of the right or the left which first led me to investigate the Green Party in the first place, shortly after Elizabeth May won the leadership and carried the Party’s flag in the 2006 London by-election.  After doing my own research, what became clear to me was that the problem of fitting the Green Party into the left/right spectrum wasn’t a problem for the Party – but rather, it has more to do with how the notion of left/right politics is outdated, and frankly failing Canada.

NDP Entitlement

The NDP doesn’t see it this way (despite recent moves away from the left of the spectrum, and instead embracing populist politics).  The “progressive” mantle is one which they feel entitled to – no matter that some of the policies they champion will have outcomes which negatively impact the least well-off in our society.  And since the NDP feels entitled to the progressive mantle, they also believe that they alone have the privilege of wearing it.

The NDP is no more entitled to own the term “progressive” than any other party.  For anyone who hangs around social media for even a little while, it quickly becomes clear that the term “progressive” actually has little meaning.  Conservatives consider their party to be “progressive” because they are dismantling regulations which sand in the way of free enterprise (while simultaneously picking winners and losers through their investment decisions).  Liberals, too, seek to wear the “progressive” mantle by championing the Charter of Rights (which voting as a block for Bill C-51).  And the NDP, of course, embraces the term – but then flirts with supporting investor-state resolution mechanisms in the Canada-South Korea Free Trade deal, and wants to build more dilbit pipelines in order to expand the Alberta tar sands to the detriment of humanity.  And since I’m on the subject, even the Green Party has some issues when it comes to the term “progressive”, when one of its members votes to send Canadians off to fight in a foreign war in which the prospects for victory are murky at best.

The Progressive Mantle

But for many, the “progressive” title matters, and the NDP knows it.  That’s why they’re doing what they can to paint the Green Party as a party of the corporate elite which embraces neo-liberal economic policy.  Now I consider myself to be someone who knows a thing or two about Green policy.  To me, these accusations are completely unsupportable – and they clearly demonstrate the hypocrisy of the NDP.

Recently, rabble.ca blogger Michael Laxer completely disassembled the NDP’s notion that the Green Party isn’t a progressive party (see: “Greens deserve ‘progressive’ votes as much as anyone”, Michael Laxer, rabble.ca, June 30, 2015).  Writing from a perspective very much to the left of the NDP’s current policy position, Laxer took a critical look at the policies of both parties, and determined that when it comes to which party should wear the “progressive” mantle, that it’s a wash (followed by a big “meh” from Laxer about the relative importance of the whole “progressive” mantle debate in general).

NDP: The Ends Justify the Means

Of course, Laxer was looking at the matter of being a “progressive” political party purely in terms of policy.  What Laxer didn’t explore was the political angle – probably because an analysis of policy is more important to answer his question.  However, what is becoming increasingly apparent to many Canadians is that truly progressive political movements have to walk the talk.  They can’t rely on using the tactics of their regressive political opponents – even when those tactics are ones which work.  Accepting political donations from non-people (read: corporations and unions) to influence electoral outcomes (thankfully banned at the federal level, although not at the provincial or municipal levels in all provinces); engaging in the politics of sleaze (character assassination, fear-mongering, personal attacks); playing populist politics at the expense of good public policy; and, of course, the spending of public money in pursuit of partisan political goals – all of these are the tactics of the regressive, established political parties.  They are the tactics used by the Conservatives and the Liberals.

And they are the tactics used by the NDP.

For Canadians that are looking for more than just more of the same, at least as far as the nation’s democratic health is concerned, it’s clear that it matters how a party pursues, obtains, and holds on to power.  A party which pursues power from an ethically challenged standpoint will in all likelihood form an ethically challenged government. Now, I realize that when it comes to ethical challenges, the NDP has a ways to go to rival the Conservatives and the Liberals, but in the past 4 years, it’s clear that the NDP is making up for lost time. 

Greens in Liberal Clothing

Along with concerns being expressed by the NDP about the Green Party’s progressive credentials, the NDP has decided to adopt the Conservative Party’s tactic of claiming that the Green Party is really just an outlier of the Liberal Party.  Some may recall that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives used the Elizabeth May / Stephane Dion leader’s riding no-compete agreement back in 2008 as “evidence” that May was really a Liberal, and that she shouldn’t be allowed a coveted spot in the Broadcast Consortium’s televised Leader’s debates.  Well, in 2015, Harper has chosen to ignore those debates, and has agreed to participate largely in debates in which May hasn’t been invited.

As has NDP leader Tom Mulcair.  And unlike Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has publicly supported May’s participation in the leader’s debates (see: “Elizabeth May gains Trudeau’s Support to Include Greens in 2015 ElectionDebate”, HuffPost Politics, April 8, 2015).  For Trudeau’s public support, May has come under fire from New Democrats who are claiming further evidence of Liberal/NDP collusion. 

NDP: The Non-Cooperation Party

In the hyper-partisan world in which the New Democrats seem to be comfortable operating in, there can be no working with other political parties, no acknowledgement that others might have good ideas.  If you’re outside of the Party, don’t look for anything akin to support.  Even when its apparent that positive comments are the only ones which can be offered, for example in circumstances where members of another party are in complete agreement with the NDP’s position, only begrudging comments are received.

For examples of the latter, look to the Ontario provincial NDP’s extremely tepid support of Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s desire to implement a cap & trade scheme for carbon pricing – something that the NDP have long called for (but have failed to implement in every province in which they’ve formed government).  Look at the NDP’s reaction to Justin Trudeau finally coming out in favour of reforming our electoral system.  And of course, look at the way in which the NDP has completely ignored Elizabeth May and the Green Party over early Green opposition to Bill C-51.  The NDP even took the extraordinary step of playing partisan politics, blocking Elizabeth May’s attempt to introduce amendments to Bill C-51 (see thisthread from Twitter). 

Even non-partisan fellow-travellers are taking hits.  Recently, NDP supporter Nichoals Ellan retweeted Jason Kenney’s anti-David Suzuki rant, adding that Elizabeth May and the Green Party’s Burnaby – North Seymour candidate, Lynne Quarmby, should be shamed for respecting Suzuki.  Seriously. What did Suzuki do to earn the NDP’s hostility?  Suzuki had the audacity to publicly support Quarmby in her bid to become an MP, because Suzuki believes we need more “scientifically literate MPs in parliament”.  And so the NDP have added David Suzuki to their list of targets. 

No, in the hyper-partisan world of the NDP, you can only be a New Democrat – or against New Democrats.  There is little room for a more nuanced, and frankly, a more realistic view of politics and politicking.  Elizabeth May tried to get the NDP to consider some sort of co-operative front against the Conservatives – but Mulcair and Trudeau both completely rebuffed her efforts (see: “Elizabeth May pitches electoral co-operation for next election”, CBC, July 21, 2014).  Now, May and the Greens are under attack by the NDP for having the audacity to democratically contest an election. 

Liberal Party Climate Policy

More recently, anonymous NDP trolls have jumped all over a tweet from Green Party of British Columbia MLA Andrew Weaver, in which he praised Justin Trudeau for releasing a much more substantive climate change plan than the non-plan Trudeau had earlier been talking up.  Unfortunately, Weaver, always the pragmatist, and not much of a partisan (a badge of honour he wears proudly!), might have went a little too far for my liking, suggesting that voters should consider casting ballots for the Liberals in ridings where Greens aren’t going to be competitive.

First, let me be clear: I’m not a fan of Weaver’s message. Frankly, I think it’s unhelpful to the Green Party.  But Weaver, who has been taken to task by the NDP over his implied support of the pro-Bill C-51 Liberal Party, was offering a nuanced and, I’m sure what he would consider pragmatic view of politics.  At the end of the day, Weaver isn’t in the political game to advance what are primarily partisan interests.  He’s concerned about the climate crisis – full stop.  And as much as I’m sure he’d like to pretend that Greens are going to be elected by the dozens and hundreds across Canada in October, his realpolitick worldview suggests that might not be the case, so Canada would benefit from a “second best” approach to fighting the climate crisis.  As a climate scientist, Weaver recognizes that the Green Party has by the far the best set of policies on climate change – and now he believes the Liberals have pole-vaulted into second place, over the NDP – a party which has put little thought into the issue.

I don’t agree with Weaver’s assessment either, by the way.  I remain concerned with the Liberals previous track record on climate change, as well as Trudeau’s earlier plan to abdicate federal leadership and let the provinces sort things out. I realize that Trudeau has pulled a complete 180, yanked some policy from the Green Party’s Vision Green and 2008 Platform – but given the business interests that the Liberals will, I believe, fail to stand up to, I can’t help but be cynical that when push comes to shove, the Liberals will fold like a cheap suit.  Of course, that’s not a rationale or evidence-based argument.  I realize that.  Perhaps I, like Weaver, should be evaluating the Liberals on what they say they’re going to do, rather than what I think they’ll do.  But since the Liberals have a pretty poor track record of doing what they say, it’s difficult for me at least to see beyond that.

NDP Misdirection - Canada Deserves Better

So the NDP is using Weaver’s words to tar the Green Party of Canada – even though Weaver is not a candidate for the Green Party of Canada, and nor does he hold any other position with the Party beyond that of “member”.  But since Weaver is a Green MLA at the provincial level, to the NDP it makes no difference.  Of course, one might expect that sort of reaction from political party partisans who make you pay for two memberships – one federal, one provincial – every time a new member wants to join.

The NDP have, of course, tried to smear Weaver this way in the past – by insisting that he supported Northern Gateway and building refineries at Kitimat and allowing tankers to navigate the B.C.'s pristine coasts.  In that incident, Weaver again took a nuanced position, arguing that there’s a “best” approach to tar sands development (which amounts to “leave it in the ground”), and what others might perceive as perhaps a more realistic, if undesirable approach (if it’s going to be mined, ship it by pipeline to B.C. and refine it in Canada).  But fervent NDP partisans, some in B.C.’s legislature, continued to insist that Weaver supports pipelines and tar sands – despite the facts.

Of course, the NDP know that if you repeat a lie often enough, some people will come to believe it.

Of course, the people know that if you repeat lies often enough, people will eventually stop believing in you.

The NDP appears to be hoping that their day of reckoning will be delayed until sometime after October 19th.

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



13 comments:

John T said...

That was a really good post, and I say that as a supporter of a party you slagged a few times.

That Andrew Weaver pragmatism is what has convinced me to vote Green and not NDP in the next BC provincial election.

I have only recently begun to see the true face of the NDP, and I am not really liking what I see.

Ron Waller said...

The main problem with the Green party is that it embraces neoliberal ideology: cut "harmful" income taxes, raise consumption taxes. From the federal Green platform:

"The Green Party will reduce taxes on things we all want, like income and employment, and we will increase taxes on things we do not want, like pollution that harms people and our environment. ... And they will be revenue neutral because a tax shift is not a tax grab."

This is the same green gospel preached by neoliberals Chris Ragan and Preston Manning of the EcoFiscal Commission con job.

The problem with this is that the top 20% makes over 50% of the income and pays over 50% of the taxes. So income tax cuts end up in the pockets of the wealthy. The reason government debt has skyrocketed over the past 30 years is countless income tax cuts: borrowing money to pay out to the rich. This is also a process that causes inequality growth. (The Green pledge to cut payroll taxes is also pointlessly ideological: according to KPMG, Canada has one of the lowest payroll tax rates in the developed world.)

Also when it comes to taxing consumption, not only is it an anti-progressive flat tax, it's outright regressive because the wealthy consume less of their income than other groups. So the people end up getting gouged with pay-as-you-go everything and the rich benefit the most. (They can still drive gas-guzzling SUVs even if the price of gas is 5 times what it is now.)

Other neoliberal Green policies: end "market distorting" subsidies and pay down nominal government debt. Neoliberals believe government debt "crowds out" private sector investment. Government debt is like corporate debt: there's no reason to pay it off. Debt burden is measured in debt/GDP, meaning it goes down as the economy (GDP) grows. That's how debt was successfully paid down during the post-war Keynesian era (from over 100% to 35%; it's now back up to 90% after 30 years of neoliberal reforms.)

I support the centrist Keynesian system we used to unprecedented success during the post-war era (1945-1980.) It ensures low inequality and proper distribution of incomes via progressive taxation. Keynesian make-work projects — used to spur GDP growth — are a perfect solution for amassing green-energy infrastructure. But you won't find this in the Green platform. They want ratepayers to pay for green infrastructure (rich pay the least) instead of taxpayers (rich pay the most.)

Sudbury Steve said...

Hi Ron – thank you for taking the time to provide your considerable comments here. Those comments are illustrative of the unfounded, non-evidence based attacks that the Green Party has recently come under fire for from the NDP and others on the so-called “brown left” of Canada’s political spectrum. The notion that the Green Party of Canada is one which endorses neo-liberal economic policy has to be one of the most ludicrous propositions that I’ve seen – and yet it is prevalent from the brown left, enamoured as it is with its fixation on consumption and economic growth. Time after time, I have heard NDP candidates, including Linda McQuaig – who really ought to know better – champion economic growth as a model for sustained development. In a world of finite resources and growing inequality, what’s clear is that our consumption-based consumer society is a problem and not a solution. Greens get this – and yet because our policies are proposing to curtail and shift energy consumption for the good of the climate and for the good of those who can least afford to participate fully in our consumer-based society, the brown left has labelled Greens both anti-progressive and “neo-liberal”.

Let me be clear about this: taxing energy consumption is not a regressive economic policy, as long as there is a redistribution of wealth which offsets price increases. That’s one of the fundamental issues with market-based Cap and Trade – profits are returned to investors or the government, while the price of everything goes up. It continues to astonish me that the NDP, which claims to champion the interests of those least well off have decided to go with a carbon pricing policy which benefits bankers and lawyers over the people who can least afford higher energy prices.

Your portrayal of the Green Party’s “carbon fee & dividend” approach to carbon pricing is one-sided. You’ve focused on the fee, but not on the dividend. So let’s talk about that briefly. Citizens Climate Lobby Canada has done some really good work which shows exactly who will benefit from the distribution of carbon fees collected. Guess what? Those making less money will be the biggest winners, given that these individuals for the most part will be ones who are not already making significant contributions to the carbon economy. While it may be so that a larger percentage of earned income from those with lower incomes are going towards energy consumption, as an aggregate, the wealthy are the ones who are contributing the most in terms of carbon pollution. If a carbon tax were applied with nothing returned to individuals by the state, I would agree that such a tax would be “regressive” and behave similarly to the “flat tax” that you’ve described. But with the redistribution mechanism of the dividend, that’s not what happens – and those of less abundance will find that they’ve got more money in their pockets as a result.

I don’t explain this as well as Sudbury Green candidate Dr. David Robinson does. Robinson, a life-long NDP member before joining the Green Party, is a professor of economics at Laurentian University. The NDP’s decision to embrace Cap & Trade over a more efficient and equitable form of carbon pricing (carbon tax or carbon fee & dividend) was what led Dr. Robinson to the Green Party. Dr. Robinson has written extensively about carbon pricing at his Economics for Northern Ontario blog, and has appeared as an expert panelist on a number of occasions to discuss cap & trade and carbon pricing. Here’s a link to blogpost which is relevant to this discussion, https://drdavidrobinsonsudbury.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/ontario-stumbles-toward-carbon-pricing/, and here is a link to an interview that he gave to CBC radio at the outset of his campaign in the recent Sudbury provincial by-election in which the topic of carbon pricing is discussed: http://www.cbc.ca/morningnorth/past-episodes/2015/01/16/david-robinson---green-candidate-in-the-sudbury-by-election/

Sudbury Steve said...

Your comments about debt are the reasons that I and so many others simply don’t trust the NDP to manage the economy. The idea that debt isn’t something to worry about because it will go down as the economy grows is again predicated on the notion that consumption is and must continue at the same or higher levels as it has in the last several decades. In the sort of steady-state economy championed the Greens and others who understand that we are living in a world of finite resources, high debt becomes a significant problem to sustainability. Given all of the warnings that we are hearing from the mainstream media (which is hardly a supporter of steady-state economics), it actually seems to defy logic to suggest that we don’t need to worry about debt. I expect even Tom Mulcair out on the hustings won’t be advancing that message.

By adopting an approach to economics not centred on growth-based models, the Green Party is the only party in Canada which has through member-approved policy articulated a position in defiance to the current economic structure. While perhaps not as significant a departure as some might want, the fact is that Greens have consistently identified the flaws in our current economic system, and have proposed a broad policy basis to begin shifting the economy towards one which encourages the type of innovation that we will need to drive decarbonisation and hold the line of warming at 2 degrees C. What Greens understand is that you can’t get to where you need to be if you are embracing an economic ideology that’s based on a consumptive, pro-growth model. There are many on Canada’s left who understand this, and many of those continue to find a political home in the NDP. Unfortunately, the NDP remains beholden to the status-quo brown left, and have, if anything, taken the NDP further to the right.

Sudbury Steve said...

The NDP’s right-ward shift has manifested itself in recent decisions not to oppose the Canada-EU CETA, and to support the Canada-South Korea trade pact – a so-called “free trade” agreement which includes sovereignty eroding investor-state provisions. The NDP also continues to state that both the Energy East and Trans Mountain pipeline are probably favorable to Canada from an economic standpoint, given that these pipelines will allow for the continued expansion of the tar sands. To me, these are quite clear signals to the neo-liberal economic paradigm that the NDP wants to play ball in that league. The NDP’s ideological opposition to carbon taxes on the basis of regressivity is another – as those arguments are built upon a pro-consumption orthodoxy.

Your notion of “progressive taxation” is a good one, but it’s only half of a good idea. It can’t be applied unilaterally – it needs to be applied with a scalpel, not an axe, so that we have a system of progressive taxation that achieves the outcomes that we want. Using GDP as a measurement is problematic, because GDP counts things like cleaning up oil spills in the positive column. If you want to achieve greater wealth equality, relying on the current economic system – even the one advanced by Keynes – is highly problematic in a steady-state econonmy, given its reliance on growth as a driver.

With all of this in mind, I’m sorry, Ron, but I don’t think that your assertion about the Green Party has any foundation in fact, and is not supported by the totality of evidence. Your focus on the carbon tax at the expense of the carbon dividend – in other words, picking and choosing - is a farily typical technique that all three old-line parties use to criticize their opponents. Your growth-based arguments are, while I admit those favoured by the mainstream, they are nonetheless starting to fall out of favour with those who are taking a careful look at the issues of the day. Our consumer-based growth-driven economic model has generally served us well in the past, but in a world of higher energy prices, a changing climate and diminishing non-renewables, what has to change is our approach to economic management – because we can’t change any of those other factors. Greens understand this. The browns who are currently holding the NDP hostage don’t.

Emily Dee said...

I see the NDP under Mulcair as center-right. I was so pleased when Elizabeth May voted against the Libya "mission". It turned out that she was right as we only managed to destabilize the country handing it to ISIS on a silver platter. NDP cannot be progressive if they support war. They cannot be progressive if they support Israeli Apartheid and cannot be progressive if they campaign against a carbon tax using quotes from Stephen Harper. There is a YouTube video of Jack Layton in 2008 telling his supporters that the carbon tax was going to hurt families despite the fact that it was revenue neutral.

Great post.

Ron Waller said...

I'm not a "brown NDP." I don't care about all the partisan drama. I'm a centrist Keynesian. The reason I have problems with the economic parts of the Green Party of Canada platform is because they are founded on neoclassical ideology. (This ideology is fairly mainstream used by both New Classical and New Keynesian economists.)

I support the Keynesian economic system because it works. 19th-century "classical" ideology and Friedman's revival of it ("neoclassical" — classical plus "Modern" Monetary Theory) has never worked. And not surprisingly, both free-market eras, before and after the post-war Keynesian era, culminated in international economic collapse.

I believe there's a lot of confusion in the Green party as to what its economic goals are. On this file, the party is split in three: progressive greens, neoclassical greens (cut "harmful" income taxes, raise consumption taxes in a revenue-neutral manner,) and anti-growth greens.

I would argue using neoclassical ideology is a great way of killing GDP growth by allowing plutocrats to leech all the wealth out of an economy. After 35 years of neoclassical reforms, where only the top 20% benefitted from GDP growth (wealth creation) and productivity growth (machines and energy doing more of the work,) the economy has collapsed. But this is not making the world any greener.

Ron Waller said...

In my opinion, people who are opposed to economic/GDP growth do not understand economics or how a society with a market economy functions. (The economic parts of the Green platform are certainly not anti-market-system or anti-capitalist.)

In a mixed-market or free-market economy, where goods and services have value in currency, this means almost all forms of development can be priced. That means as a society develops/progresses it creates new wealth, which is measured in GDP (the total value of all goods and services produced.) The only way to stop this process is to put an end to currency and have a government bureaucracy assign goods and services to people (communism). Or stop developing.

It's true that GDP can be created in negative ways, like blowing things up and murdering people in a world war. But GDP growth can be created in countless good ways, like investing in green-infrastructure, healthcare, education, and other public benefits which furthers the development of a society or civilization. (One major problem we have is economic competition among nations when more cooperation would be better. And that's why neoclassical ideology consistently fails: it's based entirely on self-interest, greed and competition excluding the very-human behavior of cooperation.)

The real problem is regulatory. Whether people have a communist, mixed-market or free-market economy, it needs the proper regulatory framework to ensure development (the goal of any economic system) is done is a stable and sustainable matter.

The reason why using fossil fuels is wrong (in terms of economics) is because it's an externalized cost ("externality".) This can be defined as a person or business profiting by passing costs onto others or gambling with other people's money or future. (Even in a market economy, not all things can be adequately priced.) That means people are stealing from other people. (In the case of fossil fuels, our children.) This is obviously not a sustainable practice.

So although carbon pricing will make people and businesses less inclined to use fossil fuels, this will only really work if dirty energy is made more expensive than green energy. (Notice, for example, from 2002 to 2008 the real price of oil increased 300%. Yet this did little to curb society's morally-bankrupt and anti-economic dependency on oil.)

Therefore, what's really required is much stronger democratic government involvement in the economy — not just fiddling with the tax code (neoclassical premise.)

In order for an economy to be sustainable, all segments of society must benefit from wealth creation. An economy with permanent income inequality growth is not sustainable, let alone just. (Which is what neoclassical economics produced over the past 3 decades.)

Therefore, a great way to increase public wealth, and ensure proper income distribution, is to make post-war-level mega-investments in various forms of green infrastructure, from mass transit (including subsidized fares) to solar and wind farms (lowering green electricity bills) — paid for with progressive taxation. This will allow society to develop towards a purely sustainable economy with no externalized costs (stealing): that is, 100% reliance on renewable energy and recyclable materials.

In such an economy, there is no problem with consumption or wealth creation. That's because all unethical and anti-economic forms of consumption that externalize costs will be made illegal. (Which must be a long-term goal.)

Ron Waller said...

So people who are interested in the green cause, really need to better their understanding of the various economic systems out there: how they worked and how they failed in an historical context. (Economics is not a field that has been developed into a science — various economists just pretend their work is evidence-based. But the fate of civilization likely depends on making economics a real science that can be relied upon.)

Fiddling with the tax code will not transform the economy. But strong democratic government involvement in the economy through the Keynesian mixed-market system will. It will reduce inequality within nations; it can and should bring about acceptable levels of global income inequality (through fair-trade globalization, which also stops environmental freeloaders); it will make society wealthier (stronger GDP growth) allowing people to pay for the necessary investments in green infrastructure (which creates jobs and GDP growth); and it will provide the strong regulatory framework with an emphasis on democratic oversight to stop people and businesses from stealing by externalizing costs.

So this should not be a partisan issue. Green party members in Canada have no reason to be married to their current economic platform. In every conceivable way, the Keynesian system is superior to the neoclassical system (an ideology entirely self-serving to corporations and the rich.)

In my opinion, the Green Party would be better off accommodating the majority of its members who are progressive-leaning than accommodating a small number of neoclassical greens by letting them write the party's economic platform. (History would strongly suggest these people are only experts at failure.)

Sudbury Steve said...

Ron, thank you again for sharing your comments. Again, however, with respect, I think that you've picked and chosen which sections of the Green Party platform that support your thesis - and ignored those which run counter. If the Green Party were only proposing a carbon tax (which the party isn't, actually - it's a carbon fee & dividend model), I might agree with you. But your comments somehow suggest that the Party isn't interested in using other mechanisms to achieve results, including the direct investment in renewable energy projects that you've called for.

In fact, the Green Party is the only Party which has assigned a dollar amount to the sorts of investments in renewables that the federal government should make. I agree that the NDP talks a good game on this matter, too - but at this time, there's been no monetary commitment from the the NDP in the same way that they've fleshed out their child care policies. With an election a few months away, to me it looks like they're not really being serious.

Ron, if you may wish to read Vision Green - the Party's policy book that it makes available to the public in between elections. I think that you'll be surprised that many of the ideas that you're talking about are included in this document. https://www.greenparty.ca/en/vision-green

However, I also think it's fair to say that while you suggest that progressive taxation could be used to finance this renewable energy revolution (a revolution that I've written extensively about in a Northern Ontario context, by the way), there are other ways. Debt financing is one - and I'm not such a steady-state fundamentalist that I'd shut the door on that completely, although I would hesitate to go into deficit to the degree that Harper did for his untargeted economic stimulus plan. Reallocating existing resources is another, and I think that's the tool that you'll find most Greens support, given the massive subsidies received by fossil fuels companies - although it's not just fossil fuels companies which Greens have their eyes on when it comes to shifting revenues, as I'm sure you'll see when you read Vision Green.

As far as those who don't subscribe to the classical models of economics and who won't put their faith in economic growth to solve our problems, Ron, I have to disagree with you. Growth was a great paradigm when it worked - but it's starting to lose steam for a number of reasons. Sure, there are still a lot of things that we can do to stimulate growth in a world where resources are increasing in price. Cutting the costs of labour comes to mind. It's just that I don't think that many of those measures would be popular choices. And the fact is they, too, would only be temporary, because the resource depletion wall is real - even if we completely decarbonize our economy next week. Fossil energy resources are but one of a number of resources which we are currently at risk of depleting. Water is a big one that comes to mind.

If we stay married to the classic, liberal growth-based economy, we're in trouble. That's as plain for me to see as the nose on my face - and increasingly, others are seeing it too. Simply put, economic growth alone won't solve our problems. A new economic paradigm is needed. And I expect that we'll spend the first half of this Century in conflict until that paradigm emerges - or until things fall apart so badly that we can figure out other ways of creating economic growth.

Ron Waller said...

"If we stay married to the classic, liberal growth-based economy, we're in trouble. That's as plain for me to see as the nose on my face - and increasingly, others are seeing it too. Simply put, economic growth alone won't solve our problems."

Sustainable development is the solution to our problems (which outlaws externalities/stealing.) All forms of development that can be measured in prices are within a subset of economic growth. (Not all economic growth is necessarily development. But all sustainable GDP growth can be considered development.)

The bias against economic growth is founded on a flawed premise: that nothing in Nature grows indefinitely. But the fact is Nature itself grows/develops indefinitely.

If one were to measure evolutionary development in currency (development units) it would follow a growth curve. 3.5B years ago the first RNA self-replicating molecule appeared. It evolved into genetically-stable DNA. 700 MYA multicellular life exploded on the scene. 300 MYA first land animals. 65 MYA warm-blooded mammals came to dominate. 7 MYA first hominids. 200,000 years ago modern hyper-adaptable humans appeared. 10,000 years ago civilization emerged. 500 years ago science was invented. Scientific and technological development has since occurred at an exponential rate. (Development is exponential because it occurs in a tree-like structure. Branches form from branches: e.g.: 1, 2, 4, 8, … -> y = x^2)

The Keynesian mixed-market system, that ensures proper distributions of incomes, evolves its own new paradigm, which one could call the end of the economy. This is where all people are so wealthy they don't have to work to support themselves, and are free to pursue their own life goals. Machines and renewable energy will do most of the work. (A neoclassical economy collapses under these circumstances, which just goes to show it's not something that should be taken seriously.)

So a market economy is like democracy and the adversarial justice system: the best of all worse alternatives. Instead of hoping for a new paradigm to emerge, it would be better to find ways to improve the existing system. The goal should be more democratic influence, ownership and oversight over the economy to create a system that serves the people instead of the people being slaves to a brutal economic machine.

Ron Waller said...

"Growth was a great paradigm when it worked - but it's starting to lose steam for a number of reasons. Sure, there are still a lot of things that we can do to stimulate growth in a world where resources are increasing in price. Cutting the costs of labour comes to mind. It's just that I don't think that many of those measures would be popular choices."

The economy collapsed because we abandoned the Keynesian mixed-market system for neoclassical ideology which previously collapsed in the Great Depression.

The problem is entirely a lack of aggregate demand which is solved with fiscal stimulus, proper distributions of incomes (that allow all segments of society to benefit from GDP growth) and public-wealth growth via infrastructure investments. All this is paid for with progressive taxation. (A tried-and-true system that created modern living standards during the post-war era.)

The economy has doubled since the neoclassical ideologues came back to power 35 years ago. This means people should be twice as wealthy. But the fact is we are less wealthy: real incomes fell; social benefits and public infrastructure spending was cut back.

Cutting costs of labor further depresses demand.

Resource prices, like gold and oil, shoot up during massive recessions. This is because the wealthy look for a safe place to put their money. This happened during the 1982 and 2008 recessions. Notice resource prices have been falling since the US economy began gaining steam. If the US economy falls back into recession, they will shoot back up. People shouldn't confuse an economic collapse caused by flaky ideology with a shortage of resources, especially oil. There is more than enough unconventional oil in the ground to ensure the complete destruction of civilization.

Ron Waller said...

Correction: that tree growth equation is: y = 2^x or f(t) = 2^t

The growth formula is: n(t) = n_0 * e^(rt)

where n_0 is the original amount;
e is Euler's constant;
r is the growth rate;
t is time

GDP growth is measured annually which can be calculated over time using the compound interest formula:

A = P(1 + r)^t

So in all exponential functions the independent variable (t) is a power.

When graphing GDP growth, one must use a logarithmic scale to turn an exponential curve into a linear curve and measure against a trend curve.

If one does this using post-war Keynesian GDP growth as the trend (1945-1980), GDP growth from 1981 to present is significantly below trend. The actual GDP growth problem we have is dismal GDP growth over the past 15 years. This has certainly not done anything to make the world a greener place.

(According to Piketty, when r > g [when the rate of return on investments is greater than GDP growth], there are high levels of income and wealth inequality, and economic stagnation. So, again, a lack of GDP growth caused by 35 years of inequality growth is the problem.)