Friday, June 12, 2009

Tomorrow Will Not Be Like Today: Why Conservatives and Liberals Are Ill-Equipped to Lead

(originally posted at

This speech, "Tomorrow Will Not Be Like Today", was given at the Sudbury Federal Green Party Association’s Candidate Nomination Meeting, on June 11, 2009.

It’s so great to see all of you here tonight for this historic occasion. As far as we can tell, this is the first contested nomination the Green Party has ever had in Sudbury. In fact, across Canada in the Green Party, I’ve been told that there are only a handful of nomination contests taking place where two or more people have stepped forward to want to represent the Green Party in the upcoming federal election. Maybe that says something about the collaborative nature of our Party. If so, I’m not sure what it says about us here in Sudbury!

But in Sudbury we’re so lucky to have two nominees of exceptional quality before us tonight to choose from. It’s not going to be an easy choice for us to make.

I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with both Fred and Gordon over the past year, and I can tell you that although the choice isn’t going to be easy for you to make, there is some good news here; you can’t go wrong with either of these two gentleman, as they both have the substance, the smarts, the personality, and the experience to represent us in the next election, whenever that may be.

Increasingly, it’s looking like a summer election will not be happening this year. The Liberals rise in the polls after coronating Michael "Tar Sands Forever" Ignatieff seems to have levelled out somewhat now, but his popularity did take a bite of the other party’s support. Even if Ignatieff wanted to, he can not bring down the government on his own. He’d need the support of the NDP and the Bloc to do it, and those are the same parties he’s been stealing support from. Jack Layton, watching NDP support plummet, can’t be all that enthusiastic about terminating the Harper government, just to watch the Liberals sweep away the gains he made in seats last fall.

And Stephen Harper isn’t likely to suicide his own government the way he did last September, as his personal popularity and support continue to trend downwards in the rest of Canada, and have completely bottomed out in Quebec. There is no majority to be gained for Harper, which is kind of a good thing, kind of not, because it means that it looks like we’re going to have to live with the Stephen Harper-Michael Ignatieff Liberal-Conservative co-alition for a while longer yet.
And every day we live with these guys is a day less where action can be taken on the issues which have brought us all together.

We Greens understand that many of the issues which are important to us are being ignored by successive Conservative and Liberal governments. Action is not being taken on the environment, and Canada has become an international outcast for ignoring its Kyoto commitments, and has instead chosen to let greenhouse gas emissions rise with impunity.

Action is not being taken to address the democratic deficit, when almost half of the voting age population of this country doesn’t bother to cast a ballot any more, because they know their votes don’t really matter, because the MP’s they elect will fall in line behind their party leaders like lemmings.

These are but two important issues to Greens, two of many which our governments continue to ignore. We, as citizens of this nation, know that Canada, acting in concert with all other nations, needs to begin reducing carbon emissions. Just about all of us practice this in our daily lives, subscribing to the principles of Reducing, Re-using and Re-cycling. Many of us have banded together in efforts to educate others, to promote the need to reduce carbon emissions at all cost, because we do not want our children to live in a world where no action to reduce was taken by our generation.

Education and advocacy are incredibly important roles for all of us to play. Leading by example is the best way to show our neighbours and others in our community that the small choices that we make have huge pay-offs when coupled with the choices of others.

We in the Green Party, though, understand that education and advocacy alone will not lead to the shifts our society must undertake to avoid the worst of, to paraphrase James Howard Kuntsler, the author of the Long Emergency, to avoid the worst of the coming "clusterfuck" of crises sitting out their on the horizon, 5 maybe 10 years out in the future.

Action on these issues requires political will. The Conservatives and Liberals have no political will to do anything more than be seen to be addressing these issues. They want to greenwash Canadians. They want to fool us into thinking that they are taking necessary steps to addressing these issues of importance. But they are creatures of the status quo, creatures who have a vested interest in continuing to insist that tomorrow will be like today and yesterday.

Well, tomorrow will not be like today. Not at all. And that’s why we Greens have come together, because we realize that we can no longer sit idly by while our Leaders sit on their hands and play make-believe games. It’s long past the time to be playing political games when our country’s health, indeed our planet’s health, is at stake.

Change is a political process, as much as an educational one. We’ve been doing very well with education, not so much with the political side of change.

Why is this? Most Canadian voters continue to buy into the myths created by the spin of the other political parties; repeated by a mass media where an ever decreasing number of voices are allowed to be heard. We know these myths: Conservatives are best at managing finances. Liberal policy will sway any which way to get votes. The NDP are tax and spend socialists which will lead us all to financial ruin.

And the Green Party? Well, we’re simply a "One Issue" Party. Not to be taken seriously.
You’d think that Canadians would realize that these myths are just that: myths. But because they are repeated time and again, they’ve come to take on significant prominence in the minds of many. And we in the Green Party have a lot of work to do to counter these myths.

Pollsters tell us, again and again, that when it comes to the discrete issue of how to handle the environment, Canadians believe that the Green Party is the party of choice to tackle environmental issues. The same polls show the Conservatives would be the ones most Canadians would pick to tackle economic issues, with the Liberals in second place and the Green Party just barely showing.

The very questions themselves are telling of the political paradigm we’ve created and have allowed to flourish. Somehow, in this paradigm, the environment and the economy are two separate issues, best handled in two completely different and unconnected ways. Greens need to start doing a better job of telling Canadians, starting with the pollsters, why environmental and economic issues are actually one and the same, and that when you mismanage the environment you also mismanage the economy.

We need look no further than to the Conservative and Liberal Parties to prove this point. It is a prevailing myth that the Conservatives and Liberals are good financial managers.

In the January version of the Conservative budget which the Liberals supported through their votes, a deficit of approximately 34 billion dollars was projected. That means that the government planned to spend 34 billion more than they were going to collect. The Conservatives told Canadians that such a huge deficit was necessary in order to inject "stimulus" money into the economy.

Interestingly, the January budget also highlighted approximately 34 billion dollars worth of tax cuts, 12 billion of which came from lost GST revenue as a result of the Conservatives move to lower the GST by 2 percentage points during the course of previous budgets.

Funny how the amount of the projected deficit equalled the amount of the tax cuts. It’s almost like the Conservatives and Liberals back in January said, "Well, we still need to spend all of the money we’re taking in, but since our political agenda is to cut taxes so that we can get votes, we’ll just ignore sound financial policies and make Canadians pay for the difference somehow later on." And they can do this because most Canadians continue to believe that the Conservatives and Liberals are good financial managers.

Now the projected deficit sits at 50 billion dollars; 50.2 was just announced today. Largely, this has been as a result of bailing out Chrysler and General Motors, which operate in the Liberal-Conservative battleground of Southern Ontario.

50 billion in deficit. Wow. Can you imagine Stephen Harper’s government going there this time last year? I mean, if you were a supporter of the Conservatives, wouldn’t you be shocked and appalled about this deficit? We Greens might think so.

I mean, come on, how can you spend $50 billion more than you take in in a single year? And still call yourself a small-government Conservative? Or a fiscally-sound money manager?
So are Stephen Harper and the Conservatives shaking in their boots? Not at all. They’ve been viewing this economic crisis as an opportunity to finally get to do what they’ve been wanting to do all along. By creating this largely artificial deficit, and spending stimulus money for projects they can send their MP’s out to cut ribbons for, the Conservatives have accomplished their goals: they’re appearing to be sensitive to the needs of Canadians by injecting money into the economy while at the same time cutting taxes. And they’ve created a new structural deficit which will need to be slain in the future.

And how do you slay a structural deficit in the budget? You’ve got two options. Raise taxes, or cut expenses. Which do you think the Conservatives will choose? Will Stephen Harper turn to Canadians and say, "Ok folks, the spending orgy is over, now that the economy is turning itself around, sorry about this, but we need to pay to our tab, so time for your taxes to go up." Or will they follow the Chretien-Martin Liberal program of reducing expenses by cutting government services and programs, or downloading them to the Provinces, who will also be up to their ears in red ink.

The word "tax" is never going to make anyone feel warm and fuzzy. Benjamin Franklin said that there are only two gaurantees in life: death and taxes. We don’t particularly look forward to either. But another great American, Oliver Wendell Holmes, had a bit more of a pragmatic and optimistic outlook on taxes, one we all need to keep in mind and remind our fellow Canadians of. Holmes told us that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

Jim Flaherty and the Conservatives tell us that taxes need to be reduced, especially on businesses, in order that Canadian businesses can be more competitive. This is despite the fact that between 1984 and 2006, the Conservatives and Liberals gave up over 250 billion dollars in revenue through tax cuts, a good portion of which went to wealthy businesses.

And were businesses more competitive as a result? Well, the World Economic Forum ranked Canadian businesses as the 5th most competitive in the world back in 1999. In 2008, we’d fallen to 10th spot. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for those who believe that lower taxes leads to more competitiveness. Although they will still likely point out that being 5th or 10th in the world is still something to crow about.

Until they look around and discover that out of the top ten countries in the world who have the most competitive businesses, 6 of those nations are some of those same Northern European countries who Conservatives get all a-twitter about because of their high tax rates! Clearly, competitive business are not made by lowering taxes. Which stands to reason if you step back and think about it, because our taxes are re-invested in making our society more civilized. A business employee is a lot less likely to miss productive work time, for example, if she is receiving state-sponsored health care rather than having to remain sick because she can’t afford to pay her own medical bills.

Clearly, Conservatives do not understand that important issues are all tied-together. Your social well-being is an environmental issue; business competitiveness is a social issue. And a healthy environment is an economic issue!

Canadians should start exploding the myth that Conservatives and their kissing cousin Liberals are sound managers of finances. They are not. Down the road, this financial mismanagement which we’re seeing out of Ottawa today will mean more pain for all Canadians, and disproportionately more pain for the least well-off amongst us, as funding for public services and programs dries up.

That also means less money will be available for our government to begin making investments in the green economy, needed investments to stimulate truly green enterprises, rather than the sorts of brown projects the so-called economic stimulus has largely been providing money for. Rather than investing in streetcars for Toronto, the Conservatives want to see more highways!

Greens, we have a story to share with Canadians, a story which they need to hear. The future is not going to be the same as today. Our finances are in chaos, and our governments are interested in doing only what it takes to get elected, and not interested in doing what needs to be done. Public Representatives like Fred and Gordon and Elizabeth May will do things differently, but we Canadians have to give them the chance to do so.

There isn’t any more time left to delay in taking the actions which we need to take. Change requires education and advocacy, but real change ultimately requires political will. Time and again the Conservatives and Liberals have shown that they do not have the political will to address, or even admit to, the coming crises.

Through your own expression of political will this evening, by casting a ballot for a Green Party candidate, you’ll have taken yet another step in the long march we’ve all embarked on. The road, as we know, will be a hard one, but together we can help each other along, and remain committed to the endeavour. For together, we are strong, and our strength and unity will no longer be ignored.

Thank you