Thursday, October 15, 2015

If the Green Party Can't Count on Environmentalists...

What the hell?  The CBC reported yesterday that anti-Kinder Morgan pipeline protest uber-group, Forces of Nature, has decided to throw its support behind the Liberals and the NDP – and is specifically supporting the NDP candidate in the riding of Burnaby-North Seymour, which is a pretty big deal (see: "Kinder Morgan pipeline protesters back NDP and Liberals over Greens," CBC, October 14, 2015).  The Green Party is running Simon Fraser university professor Lynne Quarmby in Burnaby-North Seymour – who was arrested in the riding for protesting Kinder Morgan’s plan to run its pipeline through Burnaby Mountain.

Forces of Nature is apparently endorsing Elizabeth May to win in Saanich-Gulf Islands, but everywhere else in BC, it’s telling its supporters to vote for the Liberals or the NDP in a strategic voting effort to oust Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

Force’s of Nature’s pro-NDP, pro-Liberal announcement is actually a pretty big deal.  Here’s how I see it:

1)      It shows that grassroots pro-environmental organizations which are concerned about climate change and pipelines can engage in hypocritical activities by publicly supporting organizations which are at odds with their core issues.  In this case, that’s pipelines and climate change.  Both the NDP and Liberals want to build more pipelines and expand the tar sands, which will exacerbate climate change.  Seems to me like a no-brainer for an organization like Forces of Nature to oppose that thinking, but Forces of Nature has apparently bought into the strategic voting hype.

2)      Left-leaning organizations continue to believe that “strategic voting” works despite the monumental evidence that it doesn’t.  This is especially true in new ridings like Burnaby-North Seymour, and at times of dramatically shifting voter loyalty as we’re seeing now with the Orange Crash well underway.  Let me repeat: guessing the way the voters will cast their ballots on e-day in a particular riding is often a mug’s game.  You can’t use a point in time snapshot from a month ago (as Leadnow is doing) on which to base a “logical” outcome.  The Left needs to get its act together on the crazy idea of strategic voting and toss it in the trash once and for all.

3)      A party can do everything it can to create policies which appeal to a certain voting block – only to be abandoned by those whom should be their natural supporters at the last minute.  Does Forces of Nature’s defection to the pro-pipeline crowd signify its own hypocrisy, or a glaring overwhelming weakness of the Green Party in BC and throughout Canada? Probably, it’s both.  It’s really not all that different than so much that I’ve heard during this election campaign, from climate change crusaders and ordinary Canadians: “You guys have the best policies – they align with my values.  But I’m still going to vote for the Liberals or the NDP, because you’re hopeless.”  However, I think it’s one thing for an individual to act this way, but quite another for an organization like Forces of Nature, whose very existence is due to its anti-pipeline stance.

Rift Between Greens and Environmentalists

What I think this might signal is a growing rift between the environmental movement and the Green Party. In many respects, grassroots organizations that have coalesced around particular issues have gone out of their way to remain non-partisan, in order to attract the widest range of support possible.  In many cases, these ad-hoc initiatives are spear-headed and supported by people who are apolitical – or have given up on Canada’s political system to the point that they’re going to lump all of our political parties together on a list with the heading “Failing Canada”.  I understand that this says something more about our political system – but it’s a system that we in the Green Party have chosen to act within.  And maybe that’s been to our detriment.

NDP - Not Taking Climate Change Seriously

Some in the NDP have been trying to make the case that the Green Party is actually detrimental to environmental and climate change action in Canada because Greens are perceived as having a monopoly on the issue.  That monopoly means taking the environment and climate change largely out of the realm of political discourse amongst the other parties.  While they may talk a little of these things, there is no sense of issue ownership – the climate crisis becomes just another single-serving tid-bit on the dim sum tray, rather than a main course.

Personally, I don’t think the presence of the Green Party on Canada’s political scene should deter any other party from talking about important issues and adopting appropriate policies to address the climate crisis.  I don’t believe that “issue ownership” should have any legs – and when an issue gets to be very important to voters (like health care, for example), all parties get in on the action with solid policy development that differs from one another more in nuance than substance.  The same should be true of climate change – but the fact is, it’s not – and while that sort of justifies the NDP’s critique of the Greens, I think it says a lot more about their poorly developed, poll-driven populist policy-making.  I’ll continue to blame the NDP for falling down on the job on this issue.

But clearly there’s resonance out there.  Many just don’t trust the NDP to do the things that they’ve said they want to do.  They don’t trust the NDP to build more pipelines, and to expand the tar sands.  They believe that the NDP (and to a lesser extent, the Liberals) will actually act in the best interests of Canada and reverse its course on climate change should they come to power.  Sort of like a conversion on the road to Ottawa.  Well, I’m sorry, but Tom Mulcair is not Saul/Paul – I, for one, believe he’ll remain true to his convictions (and to his union backers) and find a way to get those pipelines built.

(as for the Liberals, well, while there are some who continue to believe that the Liberals are a party of the progressive left, I’m not one of them – and I’m not going to waste my time here writing a whole heck of a lot more about that).

Ideological Compatibility Does Not Translate into Support for the Green Party

The release of the Leap manifesto should have scored us some points, but once again, Leap authors wanted to remain non-partisan, even though their manifesto most closely aligned with the Green Party’s vision.  Leap, too, failed to inspire much of a conversation about their issues during this election campaign – probably because the NDP had to ignore them, because the mainstream media painted them with the brush of the “disgruntled dipper” – and as “champagne socialists”.  That’s not to say that Leap might not find its legs after the election campaign – but it is to suggest that what it’s proposing is out of alignment with the old line political parties, and likely with a majority of Canadians.  The fact that even Leap in the circumstances that it found itself in couldn’t say anything positive about the Green Party spoke volumes to me.

This May Be It

So, whither the Green Party? After this election, a lot is going to be written about how my party failed (once again) to inspire Canadians to actually vote for them, despite throwing a lot more money into the campaign and having a very popular party leader in parliament for the past 4 years.   Sure, Greens were squeezed throughout the campaign due to other 3 parties having been bunched up in the polls for so long (the Greens needed some room to grow – we didn’t find any).  And yes, Elizabeth May not being in the debates was massively problematic for the party, because her absence reaffirms with voters that the Greens aren’t a serious political party (and clearly this isn’t just an issue about the debates – a lack of national news coverage from the mainstream media hurt us equally or more).  I said before this election that a number of things needed to break our way for the Greens to make an impact – frankly, none of them have.

So if the Green Party can’t inspire new voters, and we can’t inspire those voters who should make up our core (like Forces of Nature and Leap) to vote for us, how much longer will there be a Green Party?

I don’t like the idea of abandoning my principles just so that I can make a little headway in my opposition to “the other” (in this election, that would be Stephen Harper).  I understand that politics is the art of the compromise, but for me at least, there are certain core principles which simply can’t be set aside.  Support, even tacit, for organizations which are working at odds to one’s core well-being and beliefs is one of them.  That’s why I can’t support the NDP or the Liberals in the way that Forces of Nature has so publicly and hypocritically. 

The Victory of Progressive Incrementalism

But maybe that’s just me.  I also understand the power of incrementalism – I did study urban planning as my undergraduate, after all.  Incrementalism is a powerful force.  But unfortunately, when it comes to the climate crisis, it’s also an impediment.  The incrementalist approach espoused by the NDP (and to a lesser degree, the Liberals, whom I don’t believe are in any way actually serious about climate change) isn’t going to get us to where we need to be in the time that we need to be there. 

But if incrementalism seems to be the best that we can do, who am I stand in its way?  Well, perhaps I’m just too much of an idealist – because I don’t believe it’s the best that we – that Canada – can do.  And it angers me to no end when people and organizations who know better instead hypocritically champion incrementalism and mediocrity. 

Yet, maybe the Green Party’s policy ambition has ultimately proven to be its downfall.  There’s something to be said about “neither left, nor right, but out in front” – but if we’re so far out in front that when we look behind we can’t see the next float in the parade, perhaps we’ve let ourselves get away a little too much.

If the environmental movement isn't ready to embrace the Green Party, maybe it's time to think about packing it in as a political party.

(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)

1 comment:

Saskboy said...

Very good, honest comments on the situation. Much of it I feel and think too.