Friday, August 30, 2013

Cynical Politics, Bad Economics: Feed-in-Tarriffs and the Political Left

The following letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star was published on Friday, August 30, 2013, under the headline, “All forms of energy subsidized in Canada”. I wrote this letter in response to a column from long-time Star-contributor Ruth Farquahar, titled “Farquahar: Islanders talking about wind turbines“,published in print August 26/13; online August 27/13. Over the past several years, Farquahar has written a number of columns in which she has been critical of a wind development project located on a geographic feature known locally on Manitoulin Island as ‘McLean’s Mountain”, which is located just sought of Little Current, Ontario, within the Municipality of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands.

Some of Farquahar’s concerns about this project have to do with the location of Northland Power’s project on a prominent and locally significant geographic feature. She has raised concerns about how this might affect tourism, and impact the property values of homes in the vicinity. Concerns about wildlife impacts have also been raised by Farquahar, who is passionate about Manitoulin Island.

Farquahar has also been very critical about the lack of local input into the proposal, and of how the provincial government has, through legislation, thwarted opportunities for public input, and taken out of the hands of local decision makers the final say about where wind projects are allowed to locate. Clearly, the process for public input and buy-in into decision-making has upset Farquahar, and I share her concerns about the process.


But, up until now, to my knowledge, Farquahar has avoided bringing up that anti-renewable canard which right-wing groups like Wind Concern Ontario have used as a bludgeon in an attempt to make their point: that the FIT program should be abolished, because it is a form of subsidy for energy we do not need. Usually, those on the left of the political spectrum have been reluctant to speak out against feed-in tariff programs, because most on the left understand that shifting to renewables has to be more of a priority that it is today, and a market-based solution such as FIT can go a ways to creating a preference for renewable energy while potentially creating new employment opportunities. Here in Ontario, our provincial left-wing political party, the Ontario NDP, have been critical of the Liberal’s Green Energy and Economy Act, but have largely bought into the idea of using the FIT as a tool to spur economic development and a switch to green energy.

Farquahar is certainly a champion of the “left”, so it was a little surprising for me to see her take up the right-wing anti-FIT arguments. But, it seems to me that over the past year or so, under the leadership of Andrea Horwarth, Ontario’s NDP has begun to question the FIT’s economic model, maybe in an attempt to woo disgruntled rural voters. In the eyes of many, the Liberal’s Green Energy and Economy Act and the FIT program are one and the same, so I suppose the NDP, in a simplistic way of trying to engage voters about the evils of the former, have started to be critical of the latter.

NDP: One Step Forward, Two Steps Backwards on Environment and Energy

In the 2011 provincial election, the NDP made it clear that they would restrict the FIT program to small-scale activities, which would interestingly have the impact of killing those opportunities for job creation (See GreenProsperity.Ca's webpage about the resuls of its questionnaire to Party Leaders). Voters concerned about the environment often cite the NDP as being environmental champions, but a closer look at NDP policy and positions reveals a political Party with a contradictory plan for the environment. On the one hand, the NDP champions alternative transportation, but on the other hand, they refuse to provide funding tools necessary to make infrastructure a reality. On the one hand, the NDP claims to be concerned about climate change, but on the other, they want to slow the (already very slow) switch to renewables by providing fewer incentives for green energy, and making fossil fuels cheaper by capping gasoline prices.

To give credit where it's due, the NDP at least had the good sense to vote against Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa Thompson's private members bill, which would have seen local authorities vested with decision-making powers for energy projects, and cancelled the FIT outright. There's a good quote from Peter Tabuns, the NDP's Environment Critic, about energy subsidies in this article, "Thompson's bill to change the wind energy industry defeated", published in Huron News Now (April 2013). So although the NDP object to the top-down decision-making process of the Green Energy and Economy Act, and they're not wild about FIT for large projects (like Northland Power's on McLean's Mountain), they still voted against this Thompson's loser private member's bill, so good for the NDP.

And in Nova Scotia, the NDP government in 2010 announced a 25% energy production target from renewable energy, in a massive shift away from dirty coal (currently, coal accounts for 90% of Nova Scotia's energy mix). One of the components to promote renewables was the establishment of a feed-in-tarriff which preferenced municipalities, First Nations, and local energy co-ops and non-profits (similar to an exciting not-for-profit energy co-op which is just getting off of the ground here in Greater Sudbury, as reported in the Sudbury Star, "SUN Co-operative planning 50-panel project on Vale property in Sudbury", August 27, 2013, which generated some lively discourse in the online comments section).

But, the biggest way of achieving the 25% renewable target in Nova Scotia has nothing to do with promoting wind, solar or geothermal (or even tidal power, something Nova Scotia could really take advantage of). Instead, the NDP government seems to have put most of its eggs into the environmentally destructive and massively subsidized Muskrat Falls super-hydroelectric project in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is just the kind of mega-project thinking that we need to start to move away from in the 21st Century, to ensure local energy independence.

Given the frenetic quality of the NDP’s environmental policies, it’s really no wonder to me that Ruth Farquahar and others on the left of the political spectrum have started to back away from market-solutions like Ontario’s FIT program as a means of addressing climate change. In doing so, the NDP claims to be for “the little guy”, by championing low taxes and low energy bills. But also by doing so, the NDP is clearly ignoring the larger picture: that the “little guy” is going to be the first to experience the most severe impacts of a warming planet. And that’s why the NDP continues to get it wrong when it comes to energy and climate change policy.

Here’s my letter:


Re: “Farquahar: Islanders talking about wind turbines”, published in print August 26/13; online August 27/13.

I was disappointed to read Ruth Farquahar’s latest rant about wind turbines published in the Sudbury Star. Farquahar has penned numerous articles about the impacts of a wind development project on Manitoulin Island. Some of the issues she has raised in the past deserve to be aired, including questioning whether the locally important McLean’s Mountain area is the right location for this project.

However, in her latest column, Farquahar chose to attack wind energy in general, lamenting the “subsidy” wind producers receive from Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) programs. FIT programs guarantee that electric utilities will purchase renewable energy produced at a specific above-market rate, leading some to be critical of the “special treatment” received by small-scale renewable energy producers. Interestingly, those critical of renewable energy, like Farquahar, rarely explore the broader issues of how all forms of energy production are subsidized by taxpayers.

It is well known that Ontarians are not paying the full costs of electricity generation and transmission. Energy derived from fossil fuels (coal and gas) make up about one quarter of Ontario’s current energy mix, with nuclear energy taking up the lion’s share at 50%. Solar, wind and bioenergy account for a fraction of our current mix – about 4%. All forms of energy production receive subsidies.

Determining how much of a subsidy fossil fuel industries receive in Canada isn’t an easy task. The government of Canada estimates that fossil fuels have received a direct subsidy of $508 million over the past 5 years, and additional direct tax breaks of $1.5 billion. The government’s numbers contrast sharply with a recent study, little reported in Canada, by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which estimated that Canada is subsidizing the fossil fuel industry by $25 billion a year.

These subsidies artificially keep the real costs of fossil fuels low, making it extremely difficult for renewable energy developers to compete on a level playing field. The entry of renewable production into the market is essential in order that we begin to wean ourselves off of climate changing fossil fuels. Yet, in Ontario, the energy production market is grossly distorted in favour of non-renewable energy as a result of subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear. Nuclear producers are not paying the full life-cycle costs of energy production, mainly because they have failed to price the safe, long-term storage of nuclear waste into the price of production. Currently, the Nuclear Waste Management Organizations estimates that taxpayers will on the hook for the $25 billion needed to construct and maintain a nuclear waste repository, likely to be located in Northern Ontario.

Keeping energy prices artificially low has been championed by those on both the left and right of the political spectrum, as part of their pursuit of unfettered economic growth. We have benefitted from cheap energy production, but at what cost? The real price of historic and current fossil fuel and nuclear energy subsidization have accumulated in form of provincial and federal debts – debts which we will pass on to our children to pay. If we had to pay the real price of our energy consumption, we would certainly boost conservation efforts, leading to the need for less energy. It’s past time that we started doing this.

Farquhar appears to have some legitimate issues with the McLean’s Mountain wind project, but the subsidization of renewable energy isn’t one of them, given the our current distorted economic reality.


Online Comment

Here's a response I provided to an online commenter (Danno) regarding what a "subsidy" is:

A fair question, Danno – and not an easy one to answer, either, as I alluded to in my letter. What some consider a subsidy, others wouldn’t, and as a result, studies of subsidies can vary widely in findings.

The Government of Canada, in the 2012 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, as made available through Environment Canada, considers direct disbursements, tax incentives and offering goods and services at below-market values as “subsidies”. These three forms of subsidization are probably the narrowest definition in common usage. So, using your example of “regular business deductions”, it’s clear that our government considers the use of those sorts of tax code deductions as being a “subsidy”.

Other forms of subsidies may be promotional in nature, or fall into the category of advocacy. Our federal government considers some of these to be subsidies. Certainly, our government carries out advocacy for Canada’s fossil fuel sector (as it does for other large and not-so large economic sectors, such as Canada’s auto manufacturers, wine producers and seal products producers) on an international stage. In my opinion, a broad range of government interventions in the marketplace are clearly forms of subsidies – that’s what market interference is about. Some suggest that it’s in the government’s interest to advocate for Canadian businesses, while others believe that the market should decide without taxpayer-funded intervention. Either way, though, when the government spends money, it picks winners and losers, and the winners are clearly the recipient of a subsidy.

Governments can also fund public relations initiatives on their own. Those Economic Action Plan ads with happy oil-workers and pipeline company execs sharing their economic success stories help build confidence in the economic activity of fossil fuel resource extraction. Since the economy operates on confidence, it’s important that consumers and investors have a good feeling about a business opportunity, in order to attract more investment and deter public opposition.

Funding provided to third-party and not-for-profit pro-business organizations are yet another form of government subsidy. This is similar to government-funded PR, although in this case, it’s tax breaks and grants given to third parties which then fund pro-industry ad campaigns. However, unlike direct advocacy taken by the government, the government of Canada does not consider this type of funding to third-parties as subsidies, even though the net impacts are similar.

Interestingly, Environment Canada doesn’t appear to consider programs like Ontario’s Feed-In-Tariff as a subsidy. With FIT, contracts guaranteeing a certain fixed rate of purchase over a period of time, are entered into between the government and power producers, just as private corporations often do for all sorts of materials and services. Others might consider these sorts of contracts a subsidy, given that the government is involved. Again, I simply note that our federal government doesn’t appear to consider fixed-price contracts for services as a “subsidy”.

Another form of subsidy would be to charitable organizations, like the Fraser Institute, which publish studies and issue news releases which are in keeping with the position of industry advocates. Again, these studies and media releases – published by a charitable organization – can and do influence public opinion around resource extraction, pipeline construction, deregulation and legislative changes.

There are lots of forms of subsidies, and it’s important to understand what the author is really talking about when it comes to “subsidy”. I’m not at all certain that I would normally view a number of the items studied by the IMF as “subsidies” – I think that the assertion that Canada is subsidizing energy to the tune of $25 billion annually needs more assessment. But the IMF is a pretty important and respected economic institution, and if that’s their finding, it certainly is worthy of comment.

(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 Party of Canada)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Minister Rickford Needs to Back Words up With Actions in the Ring of Fire

The following letter to the Editor of the Northern Life was published by the Northern Life on August 22, 2013 as, "Will Rickford back up words with actions?". The letter was written in response to an earlier article in the Northern life, "Rickford aims to change Ring of Fire 'narrative'", originally published online on August 16, 2013.


Re: Article “Minister: time to change ‘narrative’,” which appeared in the Aug. 20 edition of Northern Life.

Kenora MP Greg Rickford, Minister of Science and Technology, with responsibilities for the Ring of Fire, was in Greater Sudbury last week to discuss resource development in Northern Ontario.

As reported in the Northern Life, Rickford urged business and industry partners, civic leaders and others to engage in “the politics of collaboration.”

This change of tone should be welcomed by Northern Ontarians who, for too long now, have seen the dreams of economic prosperity through sustainable resource development in Ontario’s north jeopardized by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Rather than working with environmental and First Nations stakeholders, the Conservative government has done what it can to frustrate stakeholders through a flawed environmental assessment process.

Instead of working collaboratively to find the best way forward, parties have found themselves in front of the courts, arguing about the process itself.

In March, costs were awarded to First Nations groups as a result of motions filed by the government which led to “unnecessary delays” in the judicial review proceedings. Clearly, this type of obstructive legal bullying isn’t going to mend fences and move the Ring of Fire project forward.

There is far too much at stake for Northern Ontario for this kind of bickering. The Ring of Fire represents an investment of billions of dollars in our economy, and could create thousands of jobs. However, we have only one opportunity to lay a solid groundwork for how future development will proceed.

Sustainability must be front and centre for resource development. Sustainability implies meaningful consultation — something which hasn’t been happening up until now.

With development impacts on our natural environment leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions, and with significant mining activity taking place within the traditional territory of First Nations, it just boggles the mind why the federal government has chosen confrontation over consultation.

Perhaps Rickford’s “new kind of politics” signifies the Conservatives realize their historic approach to run roughshod over environmentalists and First Nations communities hasn’t worked.

Northerners certainly hope Rickford backs his words up with solid actions that include consultation and collaboration.

Ultimately, the sustainable development of the Ring of Fire’s mineral resources needs to be the goal, so all Ontarians and, indeed, all Canadians can benefit.

(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 Party of Canada)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Federal Change of Tone on Ring of Fire Should Be Followed Up with Real Action

The following letter to the editor of the Sudbury Star was published in the Star on August 21, 2013 as, "Feds should pursue stronger EA on Ring of Fire". You may wish to view the online version of this letter at the Sudbury Star's website, and review comments posted there, including my own substantial response to a known local anonymous Conservative Party troll. I've reproduced my comments below, but for proprietary reasons, I have not reproduced the troll's comments from the Sudbury Star website.

Also, I offered some observations online to the original article, "Ring of Fire a "legacy project": Minister", published by the Sudbury Star on Saturday, August 17th. I've reproduced those comments here as well.


Re: Ring of Fire a "legacy project": Minister -- Aug. 17.

Kenora MP Greg Rickford, minister of Science and Technology, with responsibilities for FedNor and the Ring of Fire, was in Greater Sudbury last week to discuss resource development in northwestern Ontario. Rickford says he wants to push partisan politics aside and begin a process of "thorough consultation". This new approach from Stephen Harper's Conservative government is long over due. The extraction of mineral resources in the remote Ring of Fire represents a multibillion-dollar enterprise, potentially creating thousands of jobs throughout the North. The challenges are significant -- but the boost to the North's economy (and the province) may be worth the investment of public dollars on capital projects, such as a rail or road access.

With comparisons being made between the Ring of Fire and Alberta's oil sands, it's no wonder that environmentalists and First Nations communities are wary of runaway development decisions being made by governments without due consideration of future impacts. While bitumen mining in northern Alberta has brought economic growth, it has also created significant social and environmental issues that will likely remain for centuries. To avoid similar negative impacts, a truly comprehensive and consultative environmental assessment process needs to be priority number one.

However, until now, the Conservative government has seemed content to put itself at odds with environmental organizations and First Nations. As a result, the government has needlessly contributed to delaying development in the Ring of Fire. Environmentalists and First Nations leaders instigated a judicial review of the federal government's paper-based environmental assessment process, demanding this precedent-setting project be subject to a more robust form of assessment. In part, this review has led Cliffs Natural Resources, the Ohio-based multinational which is seeking to develop its Black Thor deposit in the Ring, to call a temporary halt to its environmental assessment. If a judge rules that the current environmental assessment process is inadequate, Cliffs will need to go back to square one and follow a new process.

This spring, the court ruled that the federal government and Cliffs were causing "unnecessary delay" in the judicial review proceedings, after filing failed motions against First Nations participants. This kind of legal bullying is hardly the sort of relationship-building needed to bring diverse stakeholders together to find a way forward.

Clearly, there hasn't been a lot of co-operation up to this point. There's simply too much at stake for Northern Ontario if we don't get this right. We have but one chance to lay the groundwork for how this important mineral development will proceed. The principle of sustainable development must be at the heart development in the Ring of Fire. This includes the sort of "thorough consultation" envisioned now by Rickford.

If the Conservative government is serious about moving forward with the Ring of Fire in a non-partisan and consultative way, they could back up their words with real actions, and require a more thorough and consultative environmental assessment process.


Online Comments to the August 21st Letter to the Editor

Although the government calls the process a “comprehensive” environmental assessment, in reality it’s anything but. What Cliffs is undertaking right now is a paper-based process which is controlled by Cliffs. Cliffs must answer a lot of technical questions as put forward by governments in their Terms of Reference, but the questions asked by our government are far from comprehensive. Indeed, the very nature of the assessment guarantees that a truly comprehensive analysis won’t be undertaken.

Specifically, there is no comprehensive plan for resource development within the Ring of Fire. Cliffs isn’t the only mining company moving forward with development, but it is probably further along than the others. But rather than our governments requiring a comprehensive analysis from all players, one which would address cumulative impacts from resource development, what the feds said would be appropriate was a one-off paper-based process with an inadequate Terms of Reference as its starting point.

First Nations were not consulted on this decision, despite treaty rights which strongly suggest that nation-to-nation consultation ought to have occurred. From an environmental standpoint, the Terms of Reference for the paper-based process fail to address significant expected impacts related to climate changing carbon emissions from power generating and transport. The long-term health of the fragile physical environment of this remote part of Northern Ontario will only be assessed in so far as this one specific project is concerned, so again, cumulative impacts from expected resource development will not be looked at. And finally, given that the current “comprehensive” assessment is paper-based, Cliffs can choose to ignore public input – as long as the narrow and inadequate Terms of Reference requirements are met.

I certainly don’t go in for duplication, which is why I was happy to see Minister Rickford signal a change in tone from the Federal government. Had the Harper Conservatives been interested in moving this project forward in a timely fashion, they would have consulted with First Nations and come to a tri-lateral agreement with FN’s and the Province over the scope of the assessment. Rather, by thumbing their nose at First Nations and environmentalists, Harper’s government has assured that the project would be stalled due to legal actions. Anyone paying attention would have known this. First Nations and environmentalists had been very clear: at a minimum, a joint review panel process was needed, given the complexity of this development proposal, and the lack of comprehensive plan for northern resource development.

Why, then, did the feds decide to push ahead without consultation and with a terribly inadequate process? The only reason could have been “politics”, but now in hindsight (related to this project, and to stalled pipeline projects which couldn’t be bullied through the system), it’s clear that beating up on FN’s and ignoring environmental concerns which lead to sidelining significant economic development initiatives isn’t winning over the hearts and minds of voters. In fact, it’s turning Canadians away from this Conservative government.

Real conservatives understand that it’s best to do things right the first time, rather than spend money on costly remediation. Yet, up until now, Harper’s brand of Conservatives have engaged in doing just that. Rather than doing things right the first time, Harper’s Conservatives decided to play politics with an important economic development initiative in Northern Ontario. As a result, all ROF stakeholders are the losers – and that includes all Northern Ontarians like you and me.


Online Comments to the August 17th Article

It's good to hear that MInister Rickford is looking for a non-partisan way forward, one which involves "thorough consultation". A good start to this consultative process for Rickford might be to lean on decision-makers who decided that a paper-based Environmental Assessment was the best way forward given the significant number of environmental issues with Cliffs Chromite project which the public quite rightly should be engaged in. The decision for a paper-based EA made by federal officials has since been tied up in court proceedings, in part leading to Cliffs putting a hold on further activities - costing us all time and money, and maybe impacting our future prosperity as well.

Minister Rickford is right: development in the ROF isn't a partisan issue - or at least, shouldn't be treated as one. Unfortunately, right-wing political parties who continually call for development right now at all costs, and who allude to the ROF becoming (*gag*) Ontario's "oil sands" (and by doing so invoke the environmental calamities and mismanagement which have historically gone along with tar sands development - and international whirlwind that mismanagement is reaping), aren't getting the message that people (voters) are looking for solutions and ways forward which prove to be a net benefit, socially, environmentally and economically. To do so, partisanship must be put aside - else we end up with runaway development for the sake of the bottom line of foreign multinationals who get the pie, while people living in impacted areas get the crumbs, as well as the costs of sweeping up.

(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 Party of Canada)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Liberals and NDP Use Cynical Fear Tactics About Vote Suppression in Latest Example of Partisan Gameplaying

It looks like the Liberals and New Democrats are back at their usual and constant partisan political game-playing. Today, it was reported that Liberal MP Ralph Goodale went to the media to “warn” Canadians to be prepared to face vote-suppressing anonymous telephone calls being made in upcoming by-elections (see: “Goodale warns upcoming byelections at risk from deceptive robocalls”, Ottawa Citizen, August 21, 2013). The article also reports that the NDP are also expressing concern about the potential for electoral abuses, thanks to Stephen Harper’s proroguing parliament.

Look, voter suppression tactics used by someone (or someones – and probably by the Conservative Party of Canada) during the last federal general election (after practicing in select ridings in 2008) were a very serious matter – one that strikes fundamentally at the heart of our democratic processes. To intentionally mislead voters about polling locations in a co-ordinated effort to prevent them from casting their ballots – well, frankly, that’s absolutely vile and cannot be tolerated in a mature democracy. That Elections Canada hasn’t been given the resources by the current government to get to the bottom of this matter is proof positive, in my opinion, that Canada long ago ceased to be a mature democracy. These are the sorts of tactics which Canadian observers of elections in third-world countries used to investigate, and now they are being practiced here.

So please: don’t for a moment believe that I don’t take the “robocalls” fraud seriously, because I do. It’s an issue that I’ve been following for years now – ever since a misleading robocall was made to voters in Saanich-Gulf Islands in the 2008 federal election, which urged voters to cast their ballots for the NDP – even though the NDP’s candidate had dropped out of the race prior to election day. The culprits behind those robocalls remain at large, as does Pierre Poutine and others who were involved in the wide-scale voter suppression fraud of 2011.

But today’s calls by Liberal MP Goodale and the NDP have a ring of hollowness to them. Indeed, that tone we’re hearing is one of partisan politics rearing its ugly head, making an intrusion into a very serious issue. The Liberals and NDP want voters to think that Harper’s prorogation has left them exposed to further frauds, because election reform legislation will now be delayed, thanks to the next session of parliament being bumped back by a number of weeks, possibly a month.

Let’s step back for a moment and examine these partisan outbursts. First, does anybody really believe that any election reform legislation introduced by Minister of State for Democratic Reform, Pierre Polievre, would satisfy the Liberals and the NDP (or anyone concerned about a healthy democracy, for that matter). I seem to recall the Liberals and NDP (and Greens) went batty when Harper announced that Polievre would head the Democratic Reform portfolio. As with the many Ministers AGAINST the Environment Harper has appointed the past, no doubt Polievre’s legacy will prove to be just as stellar (and one can only hope, just as fleeting). So, if known in advance that the legislation which is going to be delayed would be deemed inadequate, what’s the real concern now? With a majority in the House, the Conservatives will be able to do as much, or in this case as little, as they want.

Further, it’s highly unlikely that new legislation could work its way through the House to take effect in advance of by-elections being called anyway. The Liberals and NDP know this – but it hasn’t stopped Goodale from cynically trying to scare Canadians today.

Next, given that Goodale and the NDP are talking about the voters being at risk in the upcoming 4 by-elections due to a lack of action in the legislature, maybe we should assess similar circumstances as points of comparison. Quite certainly, voter suppression tactics were used in the 2011 general election – the numerous complaints made to Elections Canada have been abundantly reported. Given that there has been no action taken by the government to change the legislative or regulatory environment under which elections are held in this nation, it stands to reason that voters have been at risk between May, 2011 and today, August 2013. Interestingly, during that time period, there have been a number of other federal by-elections (Toronto Danforth; Durham; Calgary Centre; Victoria; Labrador). Now, it may be that I missed it, but I don’t seem to recall much in the way of controversy over voter suppression tactics in any of those by-elections.

Yet Liberal MP Goodale would have Canadians believe that, given the same circumstances which applied in other by-elections, voters in the upcoming by-elections are now at risk from voter suppression tactics being employed against them, simply because Harper has prorogued parliament.

I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t wash.

And here’s the real kicker, for your consideration.

The 2011 voter suppression tactics which have received the most media scrutiny were the ones which were made to voters in certain ridings from callers pretending to be from Elections Canada or not identifying themselves at all, for the purpose of misdirecting voters to wrong polling stations. Often, complainants who received these calls had reported previously receiving calls from the Conservative Party, and had indicated that they had provided info to the Party to the effect that they were not supporting a Conservative candidate. Those calls made in 2011 are the fraudulent calls which have disturbed so many Canadians.

The kicker is this: under existing legislation, the law is very clear: it is illegal to impersonate Elections Canada, and it is illegal to make calls without identifying on whose behalf the calls are being made.

So new legislation really isn’t needed to spell out that misleading robocalls (or any other type of misleading call) is fraudulent and against the law.

Of course, both the Liberal Party and the NDP should be aware of these provisions in existing legislation, given that both engaged in illegal activities involving phone calls. In 2011, the Liberals made calls to voters in Guelph, Ontario, to complain about the Conservative candidate’s stance on abortion. These calls did not identify that there were being made on behalf of Liberal candidate (now MP) Frank Valeriote. The NDP was dinged by the CRTC as well for making calls into the riding of floor-crossing MP Lise St-Denis, urging call recipients to press a button and be connected directly to St-Denis’ office to complain. The NDP did not identify that the call was being made on behalf of the Party.

Given all of the above, Goodale’s “warning” to Canadians today, echoed by the NDP, stinks of partisan game-playing, and to me represents yet another reason why the old-line parties just can’t be trusted with Canada’s future. The Liberals and the NDP continue to show that they will put their partisan spin on matters of importance to Canadians, hiding the truth whenever convenient, and take action which is misleading – all in an attempt to gain or hold onto power. Canadians deserve better than this. Our future is at stake here, and our elected officials seem more intent on playing games with the issues than engaging in meaningful debate.

In short, the Liberals and the NDP are doing what they can to show voters that, when it comes to spin and misdirection, they are no different than the Conservative Party which they attack. It’s sick and cynical and I’m disgusted by it all.

(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 Party of Canada)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What Lessons Canada's Green Party Can Learn for 2015 from the Australian Greens in 2013

In the heat of a federal election campaign, an unelected and unaccountable group of television media heads makes a decision about which Party Leaders to invite to the televised leader’s debate. Seemingly out of nowhere, the decision is handed down, and only the men leading the old-line political parties are invited to the debates, much to the chagrin and dismay of the Leader of the Green Party. She and her supporters object to the anti-democratic decision, citing a significant share of voter turnout in the previous election, along with the fact that her Party currently holds a seat in the legislative assembly’s lower house. But nothing can change the minds of the unelected and unaccountable media heads, and the Leader of Greens is left to live-tweet her observations, while families around the country are denied the opportunity to hear from the dynamic leader of a truly innovative political party.

Who is this Green Party Leader?

Elizabeth May in 2015? Well, maybe. But try Christine Milne, Leader of the Australian Greens, who is currently fighting for her political future in Australia’s general election. Voters will go to the polls on September 7th, to cast their ballots for what is largely a two-party race, thanks in part to the intransigence of national media outlets who have decided to silence the voice of Australia’s third-largest political party (judging by the number of votes cast in the last federal general election).

(Opposition Leader Tony Abbot leads a coalition of several right-wing political parties: the Liberal Party of Australia; the Liberal National Party; the National Party of Australia; and the Country Liberal Party of Australia, which are together known as “the Coalition” or just “the Liberal Party”. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s centre-left Labour Party is the other horse in the race)

In 2010, Australian voters elected their first ever Green Member of Parliament to Australia’s lower chamber, the House of Representatives, (the equivalent to our House of Commons) in the form of Adam Bandt, MP for Melbourne. Previously, Greens had been elected to Australia’s Senate (yes, they have an elected upper chamber in Australia) as well as to state government (including their breakthrough March 2010 election in Tasmania, where Greens took over 21% of the vote, and held the balance of power in that State’s lower house). The 2010 elections saw Greens hold the balance of power in both the upper and lower chambers, taking over 13% of the Senate vote and over 11% in the House of Representatives. Eventually, Bandt and three independent MP’s entered into an agreement with then-Labour Prime Minister Gillian Gillard to support her Labor government, which has lasted up until the present day.

But the past few years haven’t been all that rosy for Australia’s Greens. Greens in Canada would do well to take note of a few of the negative experiences of our cousins from Down Under.

Beware the Preferrential Ballot in Electoral Reform Clothing

After Green success at the ballot box in 2010, the right-wing Liberal Coalition (similar to our Conservative Party) began to implement a strategy targeting Greens for non-election. This strategy was implemented successfully during the State of Victoria’s election, and the Greens were shut out, despite marginally increasing their popular vote. In the current federal election, the same strategy is being employed by the Liberals – they are urging their supporters to “prefer” Labor over the Greens on the preferential ballot.

Yes, Australia has a preferential (or ranked) ballot system, which allows voters to indicate their order of preference for all candidates on the ballot. This preferential ballot is exactly the sort of ranked ballot system which the Liberal Party of Canada recently endorsed for Canadian elections, and which I understand Leader Justin Trudeau also believes would be a good thing for democracy in Canada.

In a ranked ballot election, unless a single candidate receives an outright majority of first preferences, the count continues to second and maybe even third preferences, so that it becomes possible that a candidate could win a seat without having received the largest number of first picks – but must obtain a plurality of picks amongst first and second (and maybe third and fourth) place picks.

Ranked Ballots - Tool of Vested Interests

The dynamics of the ranked ballot played out against Australia’s Green Party in the State of Victoria’s Melbourne by-election in 2012. Greens had high hopes in this by-election, having elected MP Adam Bandt in its federal counterpart less than two years previous (thanks to Liberal preferences for Greens over Labor at that time – a policy which the Liberal Party quickly changed, in order to avoid electing more Greens, and continuing to perpetuate the virtual two-party state which exists in Australia to this day. It is certainly not out of a love for Labour that the Liberals ask its voters to now preference Labor over the Greens. To be sure, it is to silence the voice of the Green Party and to continue the monopolization of power amongst the two old-line parties).

Although the Green Party candidate in the Melbourne state by-election, Cathy Oke, received the largest number of first place votes, she didn’t obtain the 50% threshold. When second-place votes were counted, Labor’s Jennifer Kanis held on to the seat. Interestingly, the Liberals chose not to run a candidate in this by-election, recognizing that it was a no-hope riding for them (and concerned that their supporter’s preferences might lead to a Green victory).

“How to Vote” cards were distributed by the candidates in the election, with voters urged to rank preferences largely on the basis of shutting out the Green Party, rather than trying to find the “next best fit” for a party with similar policies or positions on the issues. Not surprisingly, the small Democratic Labor party urged its supporters to preference Labor. The Sex Party, too, urged its supporters to preference Labor (even though it appears to me that the Sex Party’s policies are probably closer to the Greens). Perhaps more surprisingly, the ultra right-wing Family First Party urged its supporters to preference Labor, but they likely did so after Labor aggressively pursued Family First support. Interestingly, the Family First Party holds positions which many Labor voters would find regpugnant, including promoting active discrimination against same-sex couples.

But politics, apparently, makes strange bedfellows. At least it does for parties which claim to be the champion of the labour movement, but really are focussed on obtaining and retaining power as their principle priority. Just as NDP Leader Jack Layton sought to keep Green Party Leader Elizabeth May out of the televised debates in 2008 (unsuccessfully) and in 2011 (successfully), so too has the NDP-like Australian Labor Party tried to sideline the Greens (despite having had to work with the lone-Green MP, Adam Bandt, to form government). Cozying up to the Family First Party to obtain preferences is probably the most outrageous example.

With Greens thinking about how best to implement electoral reform in Canada, if and when the opportunity arises, we should all keep in mind what happened in the Melbourne by-election. A preferential ballot, which is the only form of electoral reform the current Liberal Party of Canada has on offer, can be used as a tool to entrench the position of the old-line parties at the expense of other voices. In fact, a ranked ballot might provide little difference in the way of outcomes than in today’s First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system, thanks to innovations like “How to Vote” cards, and to the comfortable power-sharing relationship which has come to exist amongst Canada’s more established political parties.

See No Greens, Hear No Greens: The Old Line Party's Electoral Strategies

In other words, if Greens think for a minute that the NDP or the Liberals would welcome us with open arms onto a level playing field during an election – I believe that those Greens are deluding themselves. Examples from throughout the world, such as what has happened and is currently happening in Australia, along with examples from Canada clearly point to the desire of old-line political parties to silence the voices of Greens, and any other political players who might arise.

Have you ever noticed how little elected MP’s and MPP’s from the other parties ever refer to the Green Party? It’s almost as if by not uttering its name, they can pretend that the Green Party doesn’t exist or can be ignored. The NDP in particular has followed this course of action for years now, starting under former Leader Jack Layton. In the recent B.C. provincial election, the Greens couldn’t be ignored any longer, although Adrian Dix, Leader of the Provincial NDP tried to, with he and his supporters cynically deigning to utter the name of the Green Party only when chastising voters that a vote for the Greens would be a vote for Christy Clark’s Liberals. Clark, too, played electoral politics with the Greens, with her Liberal Party taking out an ad which suggested that if voters on Vancouver Island were concerned about they environment, they’d vote Green rather than for the NDP (and bizarrely, rather than for the Liberal Party).

Elizabeth May, the Green Party and the Televised Leader's Debates in 2015

Many Greens believe that Elizabeth May’s participation in the televised Leader’s Debates in the 2015 election will be a slam-dunk, based on historic circumstances. In 2008, May was ultimately invited to the debate, after being originally excluded by the debate organizers, the unelected and unaccountable custodians of "democratic debate", also known as the Broadcast Consortium. In Canada (as in Australia), it’s a collection of media heads which gets to decide which voices the general public gets to hear from at election time, by inviting some, but not all national party leaders. Media heads claim that it would make for bad television and be somehow unhelpful to voters to have all registered party leaders in attendance, citing that many smaller parties are only running candidates regionally, or in a few ridings. For a long while, the Green Party has been considered by the media to be one of these “fringe” parties.

In Australia, there really was no excuse to exclude the Greens’ Christine Milne from the televised debate. The Greens had elected several members to parliament, in both chambers. In the previous general election, they took over 11% of the vote. Green candidates are in the running throughout Australia. Why, then, was she excluded?

Tradition? Maybe. How about tradition coupled with a desire to perpetuate the two-party state in Australia?

In Canada, Elizabeth May and the Greens might run into the same scenario in 2015, only it will be three parties opting to exclude her from the debates. Remember, although May leads the Green Party of Canada, the Green Party (along with the Bloc Quebecois) are not recognized as “official parties” in the House of Commons, because they have not obtained the official party threshold of 12 seats. And while the Broadcast Consortium has usually invited to the televised debates the Leaders of each and every party holding at least one seat in the House at the time of its dissolution, there was a time when they didn’t – in 2008, when May’s Green Party was originally shut out of the debates (you will recall that Blair Wilson, who had been elected as a Liberal, but was sitting as an Independent MP, joined the Green Party just days before Stephen Harper broke his fixed election-date law and dissolved parliament. Wilson never technically "sat" as a Green MP, but undeniably he had made his intention to do so quite clear - by joining the Green Party and telling the world).

That a public outcry forced the Consortium to rethink its decision, after a very public retraction by Jack Layton of the NDP’s stated position to keep the Greens off of Canadian TV’s, the fact remains that the Greens had a seat in the House at the time that it was dissolved by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but were still originally excluded from the debates. This went against all tradition, but it nevertheless happened.

Greens should wisely expect the same treatment in 2015. There is no good reason for either the Broadcast Consortium or the other political parties to want May at Leader’s debates (unless Stephen Harper cynically thinks that a good performance by May might split the non-Conservative vote even further, and thus increasing the odds for Conservative candidates to come up the middle in tight races – but I think that Harper himself would prefer to simply watch the NDP and Liberals beat one another up, than to potentially contend with the Greens as an official party in the House, thanks to a good debate performance by May). That it might be in the public interest to have May attend the debates would be of no matter to the Consortium or the old-line political parties which are primarily first and foremost motivated by obtaining and retaining power. Clearly, what was in the public's interest failed to motivate the media and the other parties in the past.

A Wild Card: The Presence of the Bloc

In light of this circumstance, I think it’s inevitable that May will be kept from televised Leader’s debates, just as her counterpart in Australia, Christine Milne, was silenced. The only thing that I’m going to hold out hope for is a bit of a wild card: how would the Consortium deal with the exclusion of the Bloc Quebecois from the debates? The presence of the Bloc in Canadian politics might be the only thing which saves May’s participation in the debates.

To be blunt, what kind of hell would Bloc supporters raise in Quebec if predominately English-language media heads sought to exclude the Bloc Leader from the televised leader’s debates? If the Broadcast Consortium wanted to court controversy, excluding the Bloc from the debates would be a very efficient way of doing so. Certainly, however, the other old-line political parties would be very happy to sideline the Bloc. After all, the Bloc is only a regional party, and doesn’t run candidates in most ridings. And, since 2011, it is no longer an Official Pary, having elected only 4 MP’s in the last general election (it’s up to 5 now, after the defection of former NDP MP Claude Patry). If the Greens are to be excluded from the debates, so too should the Bloc.

The presence of the Bloc on the Canadian political scene might lead the Broadcast Consortium to look for some form of compromise, rather than to simply invite May and Daniel Paille, the Bloc’s Leader, to the debates. It is quite possible that in 2015, we may see a new format for the debates, with “the big 3” getting a greater opportunity to debate amongst themselves. Perhaps May and Paille will be left to take on one another, during a Tuesday afternoon time slot (although even on a Tuesday afternoon, I can’t help but think that such a “debate” would make for some pretty lousy TV). Or maybe the Consortium will simply invite the Bloc to the French-language debate only, out of some misguided notion that while it’s ok for French Canadians to hear from Paille, English Canadians will at least be spared from exposure to a separatist party. And in this circumstance, May probably wouldn’t be invited at all.

Lessons for Canadian Greens

If Greens in Canada are to learn any lessons from our Australian counterparts, I believe that they are as follows:

1) That old-line political parties will do whatever it takes to silence Greens and perpetuate the electoral status quo, including going so far as to putting their own partisan interests ahead of their nation’s interests;

2) Elizabeth May’s participation in the televised Leader’s debates is anything but assured in the lead-up to the 2015 election date. Greens should not be complacent, and should such an anti-democratic decision be made, Greens should instead be ready to rise up en masse in a way that we didn’t in 2011.

3) The situation with media heads manipulating and controlling the range of voices heard from during a general election due to their gatekeeper status for televised debates is intolerable for a mature democracy. Each and every political party in Canada should be calling for a clear set of rules regarding participation (but despite what the old-line parties should be doing, the only truly national party to do so has been the Greens).

4) That Justin Trudeau’s “Preferential Ballot” is nothing but window dressing in the world of electoral reform, and will in fact become just another tool the old-line parties use to placate the increasing number of Canadians who are coming to realize that there’s something terribly wrong with our electoral system. If Greens want to talk about electoral reform, the Liberals’ “ranked ballot” is a non-starter. Let’s stick to proportional representation, period.

Our Future Success

Voters in Australia go to the polls on September 7th. It will be interesting to watch from afar how well our Green counterparts are able to perform, despite the deck being stacked against them by the old-line parties and the media. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there might yet be some truly thrilling election-night success stories which emerge from Down Under to inspire Canadian Greens. But even if there are, one thing is certain: we Canadian Greens are going to have to make our own way forward, continuing to blaze our own trail in the face of organized adversity. We’ve come this far together – I know we can go much further yet.

(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 Party of Canada)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Is the Green Party Still Relevant? Part 3: Values, Costs and the Pursuit of Power

In the current Canadian political reality which I’ve described in the first two posts of this series, the question “Is the Green Party of Canada still relevant?” appears to remain unanswered. In Part 1, I looked at the current political climate and potential for future Green successes, as well as some of the areas of concern which the Party can expect to face in the lead-up to the 2015 general election. In Part 2, I dove down into the depths of the Green Party’s own internal machinations about electoral co-operation with other parties, and exposed what I believe to be a critical conversation amongst Party members about the Party’s power structure; a conversation which isn’t yet happening, but must, in the run-up to candidate nominations.

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll offer my own answer to the question, “Is the Green Party of Canada still relevant?”. And I’ll do so right away.

Interestingly, it’s because of the current political reality that I believe the answer to be a clear, “Yes”. The political divisions fomented by the old-line political parties have continued to demonstrate that while between parties there may be overlap in policies (such as the Liberal’s call for the legalization of marijuana and the NDP’s desire to promote proportional representation), the values on which the New Democratic and Liberal parties are based and on which they continue to operate are not those which are shared by the Green Party of Canada. And the opposite is also true – our values are not their values. And they in which each party interprets its values is also germane to any discussion about the Green Party’s relevancy on the Canadian political scene.

Values and Political Parties

Both the Liberals and the NDP claim to offer Canadians policies which are based on a relatively undefined set of values – values which these parties believe they share with the majority of Canadians. We keep hearing about “Liberal Values” from Liberal candidates, for example, but nowhere that I’m aware of are these “Liberal Values” clearly articulated. This stands in stark contrast to Green Values – which are a set of six pillars on which membership-submitted policy of the Party is tested and ultimately approved. Our Leader, unlike the Leaders of the NDP or the Liberals, cannot simply discard policies which grassroots Greens have passed.

Recently, the national media has been making a big deal about Justin Trudeau’s new stance on marijuana –previously he had voted with the Conservative Party for harsher sentences for marijuana possession. Then, last year, he changed his mind and embraced decriminalization. This year, Trudeau has embraced the long-standing Green Party of Canada policy of legalization. What the media hasn’t adequately reported (with but a few exceptions) is the fact that the Liberal Party of Canada’s membership last year voted on a policy which called for the legalization of marijuana. Trudeau’s new stance is really not all that new – it’s just that now he’s aligned himself with his own Party!

Perhaps more famously, and more telling, at the 2009 Liberal Policy Convention, then-Leader Michael Ignatieff reacted quite strongly to the Liberal Membership’s re-endorsement of Stephane Dion’s Carbon Tax policy. On the same day that Liberal delegates voted in favour of keeping the carbon tax as part of their Party’s policies, Ignatieff publicly nixed the idea of pricing carbon. To me, this action spoke volumes about so-called “Liberal Values” – when a single individual in the form of the Leader of the Party has the ability and authority to over-ride the will of the membership, well, that’s far more akin to a dictatorship than it is to democracy. If a Party normalizes these sorts of abuses of power in its own internal processes, what might that Party do with a whole country like Canada? Some might suggest that these authoritarian powers are necessary at the Party level in order to promote Party discipline and to feed the message machine. The specific little policies of a party clearly are not as important as getting elected and dealing with bigger-picture items. Bigger picture items than the legality of pot – and certainly bigger than wading into a carbon pricing debate!

The Liberals, NDP and the Politics of Message-Machine Populism

Indeed, both the Liberals and the NDP have decided that it is far more politically expedient to abandon any strict set of values and instead embrace a small buffet of populist policies which are perceived to be a winning electoral recipe – in short, to say and do whatever it takes to get themselves elected, while appearing to remain “progressive”. Unpopular policies approved by their memberships, or espoused previously by candidates and MP’s will be shelved in favour of each Party’s respective message-machines. While the household name of a particular candidate might have significant import for a particular political party, the policies which individuals previously championed, unless completely in line with the message-machine approved talking points, will be discarded, abandoned, and in many cases, denied.

We saw this at work just recently in the Ontario by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, a riding now in the City of Toronto. Mayor Rob Ford and other Conservatives on Toronto City Council had been pushing to build subways to Scarborough, which was not in the original plan endorsed by Metrolinx, an agency of the Province which looks after transit development initiatives throughout the City of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. Metolinx had instead endorsed a plan to build Light Rail Rapid Transit (RT) to Scarborough, which would have served more commuters and would have cost about a billion dollars less than subways. But subways are popular with the public, so the Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne changed its tune on the RT, and the New Democrats under Leader Andrea Horwarth did the same.

This put former Toronto Transit Commission Chair Adam Giambrone, the NDP’s candidate, and former RT-advocate Mitzie Hunter, the Liberal’s candidate, in awkward positions. Essentially, both had to ignore or absolve themselves from positions which they previously held before receiving their Party’s nominations – in order to fall in line with their Party’s message that it was ok to spend a billion dollars more on a subway which would serve fewer people. Only the Green Party of Ontario’s candidate Nick Leeson had the ability to suggest to voters that this situation was ludicrous. Leeson received 2.15% of the vote, and Hunter was elected MPP.

Note the use of the word “ability” above. The fact is that once a candidate is nominated to represent either the Liberals or the NDP, they’ve pretty much got to fall in line with their Party’s message-machine, even when the message coming from the machine is absurd, as was the case with the RT reversal. Absurd, perhaps, but apparently it was popular – enough to win Hunter the riding (38.5%), enough to have pro-subway PC candidate Ken Kirupa finish in 2nd place (30.8%), and enough for scandal-plagued Giambrone (whose right to be the nominated candidate for NDP remains a question today) to gather 28.4% of the popular vote.

Policy – Single Serving Buffet vs. Three-Course Meal

The above situation is illustrative. The Liberals and the NDP cannot be trusted to develop comprehensive policy proposals based on the perceived good of society. Instead, what we get are a series of disconnected, yet individually popular, policy proposals which often work against the public good. Whether it’s the New Democrats calling for lower gasoline prices or their refusal to look at non-traditional user-pay revenue models, or the Liberal’s desire to reduce electricity rates or to support pipeline proposals in absence of research, data and facts, both parties are rife with populist agendas. Indeed, it appears that the Liberal Party is doing all that it can to slave its success to that of Leader Justin Trudeau, just as it tried to do with former Leader Michael Ignatieff. At least the NDP seems to have shackled itself with a brooding, too-serious Leader who tries to articulate a deep thought or two every now and then (but has largely learned to avoid doing so thanks to a Liberal/Conservative mainstream media which is almost certainly going to misrepresent him – witness recent comments made about “Dutch Disease” and the need for rail regulation after the Lac Megantic tragedy).

This form of political populism does not serve the nation well. It’s not unusual for policies on offer within the same party to be at odds with other policies. Take, for instance, the NDP’s stated desire to limit greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to fight climate change. If the NDP were serious about doing just that, they would not offer policies which seek to cap the price of gasoline, making it more affordable for people (and especially rich people) to drive more and emit even more greenhouse gas pollution. These policies on offer are like a single-serving buffet, where the voter is encouraged to pile what they can on their plate. No matter that the beet juice might get into the ice cream and make it taste bad, or the soft drink spill into the tuna salad. Ice cream, beets, tuna salad and Orange Crush are all popular, so everybody should get some!

A more pragmatic approach to policy development would be to sit down and actually plan and execute a three-course meal. Sure, it’s going to take more time to prepare and serve, but when you control the individual components to a stricter degree, what you end up with is a gastronomical experience where the components act in harmony with one another, creating something far greater and more pleasant than they would have on their own. Generally speaking, this is what political parties tried to do in the past (and what the Green Party of Canada does today – you should read Vision Green if you haven’t already), but this approach has been abandoned because of the perception that voters are “picky eaters” who might end up leaving the whole meal uneaten, because there might be some mushrooms in the gravy.

The Green Party and the Pursuit of Political Power

Greens know that this kind of political populism isn’t what Canada needs right now in order to get ourselves on track to remain economically competitive throughout the 21st Century. Greens know that the policies and values of the Liberals and NDP don’t start with an understanding that global warming must be held at or below 2 degrees Celsius in order to avoid disastrous feedback loops. Greens know that the concept of sustainability needs to be at the forefront of all decision-making, including decisions related to our economy, and not simply treated as a “nice to have”. Greens know that if we are serious about participatory democracy, we must practice what we preach without exception.

This might make us seem to be the Party that can’t compromise, and that can’t bring itself to work with others. But that’s actually not the reality. If anything, our values mark the Green Party as the only Party which is able to pursue a co-operative agenda, given that we have not slavishly bound ourselves to the pursuit of power above all else. Indeed, our grassroots membership’s 2012 directive to our Federal Council required that body to pursue electoral co-operation with the Liberals and the NDP. That we continue to be rebuffed by the other Parties is not a fault of our own making by strictly adhering to our values. No, it’s the other Parties which have refused to consider compromise of any sort, in the pursuit of their power-obtaining agendas.

We know that the pursuit of power can’t be the primary motivation of those who would wield power. Yet, for Canada’s three old-line political parties, it’s clear that their primary motivation is the pursuit of power. Perhaps it could be argued that of the three, it is only the Conservative Party which has articulated a relatively comprehensive rationale or a vision to voters regarding why voters should entrust them with absolute power and authority. Now, that vision is certainly one which has not inspired a majority of Canadian voters, and it is certainly one to which I am personally largely opposed to in its detail. I think it’s also fair to suggest, however, that in the pursuit of power, the Conservative Party has let down a decent segment of its core voters, but it has done so with the knowledge that this socially conservative segment is not likely to abandon the Conservative Party, for there would be nowhere else for it to go.

Certainly, the desire to wield power is present amongst Greens. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be a Green Party, and the question about our relevancy on the Canadian political scene could be easily answered. The difference that I’m trying to paint, however, is one of values and comprehensive vision– and specifically the idea that it is important to remain faithful to a core set of values, both in its public policy proposals and in the Party’s actions. Just as successful scientific experiments need to be repeatable, so should the guiding principles of a political party. And although the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party maintain that they, too, are values-based parties, the reality of their operations are often at odds with what they profess to value. I, for one, certainly wish that more Liberal and NDP voters and supporters would realize this.

Compromise and Costs

Yes, politics may be the “art of the compromise”, but I think it’s fair to defer to a more economically-centred model for greater wisdom, and ask the simple question, “How much does that cost?” That’s a question whose answer is of fundamental importance to Greens, especially since it’s how the question itself will be answered which probably holds more importance than the answer itself. Greens understand that to truly answer that question, a triple-bottom line analysis is required – one which looks at costs and benefits to environmental, social and economic factors. A more rudimentary perusal of a price-tag might cut it for those enamoured with the ideology of the old-line parties, but that’s going to make little headway with Greens.

The same, too, is apparent in politics. If the “art of the compromise” is one which will have a greater triple-bottom line cost/benefit analysis for Canadians, only then can the compromise itself be worth pursuing. Grassroots Greens gave this direction to our Federal Council when we voted to allow it to pursue negotiations with other parties which might have led to electoral co-operation and the elimination of the first-past-the-post electoral system. What it does not imply is that compromise for the sake of electoral gain alone through the pursuit of populist measures should be considered desirable on its own. A greater level of analysis is required with specific policy proposals, one which assesses all social, environmental and economic costs. As examples, in the political realm, the NDP’s call for capping gasoline prices may be popular with voters, but it certainly does not stand up to a greater analysis of overall environmental, social and economic costs.

Green Decision-Making

It may be that Greens in Canada will have to wrestle with issues related to compromise at some point in the future, just as Green Parties in other parts of the world have had to do. In fact, we’ve already had to start doing so, with the election of Elizabeth May to parliament. Without member-approved policy to guide the way she votes (for, try as we might, even we Greens can’t anticipate every single possible vote in the House of Commons), May has had to rely on the values of the Party as viewed through her own lens of understanding of those values. For example, May was criticized by some for not supporting the Canada’s participation in the aerial bombardment of Libya. May voted against the government motion, which otherwise would have received the unanimous support of all parliamentarians. Although hers was but one vote, the perception it created was that not all Canadians were behind Canada’s choosing sides through military participation in the Libyan Civil War. May’s vote was guided by the values of the Party along with her own values. Interestingly, these values coincided with those of a number of Canadians who belong to and/or support other political parties, which suggests to me that a unanimous vote in parliament to bomb Libya really would not have reflected Canadian public opinion.

My point here is that Greens in parliament will be guided by our vision and values. Greens will not vote in parliament based on the direction which the Party Whip assigns each vote, which is the way that votes are carried out in other Parties. Indeed, in 2012, grassroots Green Members voted on a policy which now requires the Green Party of Canada to never have “whipped” votes in parliament. While this might make some dyed-in-the-wool Green partisans a little uncomfortable, by giving direction to the Party on the matter of whipped votes, it’s clear that Greens are thinking ahead to a time when a full caucus will be meeting and discussing pertinent issues of the day, in advance of figuring out how to cast what in reality amounts to single votes by the elected representatives of voters in the riding which sent the individual to Ottawa who just happened to be a Green.

Values vs. Political Expediency – What Sets Greens Apart

Other parties are quick to forget that Canadians cast their ballots for an individual, and not for a political party. Maybe this is because the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats do what they can to thwart individual thinking in favour of the message-machine. Liberals and Conservatives might say that this kind of party discipline is needed in order to present a united front on matters which are of governmental importance, but that same united front isn’t necessary for things like Private Members bills. The NDP, however, even tends to whip votes on Private Members bills. And the fact of the matter is, who is to say that individual values and matters of personal conscience should be over-ridden by political expediency? In some cases, political expediency even over-rides a Party’s previously stated-political position, if that position has been deemed to be “unpopular”. Ultimately, the individual casting a vote in parliament has little to no say in how that vote will be cast, if that Member of Parliament happens to be a Conservative, a Liberal or a New Democrat. Party discipline is clearly paramount in for those parties – and more important than any other consideration.

The Green Party just doesn’t operate like that. I sometimes hear Elizabeth May try to explain how the Green Party functions to journalists and pundits, and what she describes is an experience so different from any they’ve encountered, they invariably either get it wrong in summation, or they just seem to not believe her. After all, in the experience of the mainstream media, a political party in Canada pursues power primarily for the sake of power – all other considerations are secondary. And that’s not the Green Party’s reason for being.

Yes, the Green Party remains relevant today – probably more so in today’s increasingly hyper-partisan political circumstance than ever before. That the Green Party may not mount an expensive campaign around a candidate with a recognizable name in your riding doesn’t mean that the candidate and her supporters shouldn’t be taken seriously by voters. Yes, we may not garner much in the way of mainstream media attention, and yes, our numbers may not be able to generate a significant amount of social media activity, but that’s not important. The words that we say, the policies that we talk about, the Party that we promote – all of it will be based on our shared vision for a bright and healthy future for Canadians. Our words and actions will not be based on electoral gimmicks or concessions, or mid-election flip-flops on important policy matters based on a perceived change in public mood. Greens will continue to advance the notion that it’s more important to do what’s right for Canada than it is to pander to voters. If you don’t agree with our policies, we’ll thank you at least for having taken a look, and instead of trying to suppress you from casting a ballot, we’ll encourage you to vote for someone else – because at the end of the day, Greens know that voting for someone is more important than voting for a Green – and more important than not voting at all.

Yes, the Green Party is relevant. The suggestions of others to the contrary are, in my opinion, not reflective of our Canada’s current political reality.

(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 Party of Canada)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Is the Green Party Still Relevant? Part 2: The Inside Baseball of Green Electoral Co-Operation

Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party stands astride Canada’s political reality like an unmovable colossus. Scandals and legal suits are not changing public opinion, and the Conservative Party remains poised to achieve another significant electoral victory in 2015. The Conservative war machine continues to pump out disinformation and vitriol aimed at the Leaders of the two largest Opposition parties, along with anyone else (from artists, journalists, academics and environmentalists) who dares get in its way. Its weapons are funded by right-wing partisans, and fuelled by a generally uncritical media.

“Stop Harper”, a rallying cry first loosed by former Senate Page Brigette DePape, probably best sums up the current reality for politically engaged Canadians who don’t subscribe to the Conservative Party’s view of Canada and its future. Amongst the majority of Canadians who did not vote for the Conservative Party in the 2011 general election exists a small percentage of Canadians who voted or thought about voting for local candidates representing the Green Party of Canada. With strong new leaders now heading the opposition Liberal and New Democratic parties, these Green supporters are going to be faced with tough decisions leading up to Election Day 2015. The choices that they make will resonate throughout the Green Party and its local subdivisions, and will impact everything from candidate and volunteer recruitment, fund raising, and ultimately our future electoral success.
Questions for Local Greens

In Part 1 of this Series, I asked the question, “Is the Green Party still relevant?”. In that post, I looked at the current Canadian political scene, and some of the factors which might influence the electoral success of Greens. The previous post ended with questions about how local Green Party campaigns could expect to fare, given the realities I had identified. Could Green Members and supporters end up abandoning the Party in the pursuit of what some might see as a more over-arching goal: that being to “Stop Harper”? Can electoral co-operation exist between the Green Party and the Liberals and/or NDP, in any form?

These are the questions that local riding associations are going to have to face over the next two years, as the Party begins to pull itself together and re-energizes for the next federal general election. It may be that local Greens want opt to pursue the course which the Green Party pursued in the Labrador by-election: to sit out the election and support one of the other Opposition Parties. Others might choose to run a candidate with the goal of accomplishing other results which can be useful during the next election, if circumstances might prove more favorable at that time. These tasks might include: getting the candidate’s name out there in public realm, associated with the Green Party; working with volunteers on phone and foot canvasses in an effort to build local voter databases; and, developing a strong and experienced core campaign team.

It may very well be that in certain ridings, there won’t be much in the way of conversations amongst Greens at all, given how thin Greens are on the ground in certain parts of this nation. And with the federal redistribution of riding boundaries intended to impact the 2015 general election, it may be that some Electoral District Associations (EDA’s) are deregistered, and a critical mass of Greens needed to form an EDA in new ridings proves difficult to find and/or sustain.

Electoral Strategies

In the recent past, the Green Party has committed to running candidates in all of Canada’s 308 ridings, largely to show evidence that the Green Party is one with a truly national reach (and to demonstrate to the Broadcast Consortium a real and significant rationale for the inclusion of our Party Leader in the televised Leader’s debates). Right now, it’s unclear whether the Party may have the same objectives in mind. The notion of demonstrating "national reach” isn’t as necessary now as it has been in the past, and in theory, if the Broadcast Consortium follows its past unwritten rules for participation in the Leader’s debates, Elizabeth May will be appearing in those debates (although that being said, in the 2008 election, the Consortium opted not to follow its own long-established practices and originally did not invite May to attend – the same could happen in 2015, especially if the other Parties threaten to boycott if the Greens are present. Remember: the Green Party does not have official Party status in parliament). Given this circumstance, running candidates in all Canadian ridings may or may not be a priority of the Party in 2015, depending on whether one thinks May will be invited to the debate.

Considerations for Electoral District Associations

If running candidates in all ridings isn’t a priority of the Party, then it may be that EDA’s will have some sort of a say in whether they choose to nominate candidates. Likely, it hasn’t occurred to many EDA’s that they might actually have a choice in the matter at all. After all, don’t EDA’s exist in order to find, raise funds for and select a candidate? Well…yes and no. Candidate searches and elections readiness may be some of the roles of an EDA, but they aren’t the only roles. It may very well be that there are some Green EDA’s who view the need to nominate a candidate as purely a secondary function – and for those EDA’s, it may simply be assumed that it’s their choice whether someone will represent the Green Party in their local riding. So while some EDA’s might not realize that they might have a choice in running a candidate, other EDA’s might not realize that they don’t have a choice but to run a candidate.

And this has everything to do with the structure of the Green Party of Canada, and some recent decisions made by grassroots members related to the powers of EDA’s in relation to the Central Party. Keep in mind, though, that most ridings in Canada don’t actually have a local Green Party EDA, so the discussion below does not apply.

Could a local Green Party EDA decide not to nominate a candidate to represent the Green Party in the 2015 election? What options might a local EDA have? Some of the discussions that I’ve heard about co-operation have had to do with the idea of joint nomination contests with other Parties, such as the Liberals and/or the NDP (but not necessarily just those two other parties). Generally, I’ve discounted those conversations, because I can’t conceive of a circumstance in which the Central Liberal or New Democratic party would ever allow non-members to vote in a local nomination contest (despite the ability of non-members being allowed to do so in the recent Liberal Leadership contest). Simply put, the Constitutions of both the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party forbid this – so rule out joint nomination contests.

Of course, Green Party Members could always resign and take out memberships in the other parties, in order to participate in a particular nomination meeting. This practice has been going on for ever – it’s certainly not unusual for members of one party to join another for whatever reason. Likely this is already happening, as Greens start to line up behind what they perceive to be Liberal or NDP candidates with a good chance of winning, especially in Conservative-held ridings. The problem with this approach is that a small core of Greens must be left behind in order to fill roles in the local Green EDA which are required by Elections Canada. If this handful of members don’t retain their membership, the Green EDA will fold.

Some EDA’s might decide to get creative, and try to nominate members of other parties to represent the Green Party in a particular riding, with or without the permission or endorsement of the individual nominated. This might happen in ridings which are currently held by a strong Liberal or NDP MP, or where there might be concern that even a modest Green Party campaign which captures 3% of the vote might end up splitting the results, and electing a Conservative. To those EDA’s, I suggest that they check their Constitutions first, because it’s probably written somewhere that a nominated candidate must be a member of the Green Party. Of course, Constitutions can be amended, right?

Finally, some EDA’s might simply opt to not nominate a candidate at all. They may either decide to not hold a candidate nomination meeting, or to hold a meeting with only one name on the ballot – that of “None of the Above” or “NOTA”. In the Green Party of Canada, voting for NOTA is always a choice. So if NOTA is the only name on the ballot, or receives the most votes, it may be that the EDA would consider that an expression of the will of local Greens in the riding, and the expectation would then be that no one would represent the Green Party in the general election.

The Local vs. The Centre

All of these scenarios highlight the notion that when it comes to candidate nomination in the Green Party, the buck stops with the EDA. That’s actually not the case, as the Central Party has a very clear role in the candidate selection process. I won’t get into specifics, but suffice it to say that there are a couple of times during the selection process where the Central Party’s approval of a nomination contestant and/or nominated candidate is required. That being said, for the most part, the Central Party has proven reluctant to interfere in nomination contests, as they really are a clear expression of the will of grassroots Greens at the local level.

What’s less clear is whether the Central Party will choose to over-ride decisions of local Electoral District Associations which may choose not to run candidates. Or even if the Central Party could if it wanted to. Frankly, there is little precedent to guide the Party forward here. In Labrador, while local Greens were consulted about whether a candidate should run or not, there was no EDA in place to make a decision about a candidate. Local EDA Constitutions might hold the answer – especially if whether the selection of a candidate is listed as a purpose or requirement of the Association (and it very well may not be with some of the older EDA constitutions, written at a time when the priorities of the Party were not the same as they are today). However, given the NOTA option on all candidate selection ballots, even if the requirement to hold a contest is clearly spelled out, the selection of NOTA over a real person (or the listing of NOTA as the only candidate) could still lead to circumstances where a real living breathing nomination contestant is not selected by the local riding association.

If this happens for whatever reason (and presumably it would be more likely to happen in EDA’s that are looking towards electoral co-operation with one or more of the other parties in 2015), what are the options of the Central Party?

Back in 2010, grassroots members of the Party gave the authority to Federal Council to provide each and every Electoral District Association with new local Constitutions, to be based on a template developed by Federal Council. This action has yet to be implemented. But, if the Green Party’s Federal Council wanted to assure the opportunity for the Party to have living and breathing Green candidates stand in every riding in the 2015, there remains this membership-endorsed method for doing so, simply by replacing all existing EDA Constitutions with new Constitutions which prescribe a particular process for candidate selection (and which limit the ability of local Greens to amend their Constitutions). Of course, this approach may appear to be heavy-handed and not in keeping with the Party’s values which seek to promote local democracy, especially in those ridings where Members may have already opted co-operate with another party, and not nominate a Green candidate. That being said, the Central Party may still wish to consider having a Green on each and every riding’s ballot, in order to continue to demonstrate the truly national reach of the Party, so that the odds are increased for May’s participation in the televised Leader’s debate.

Of course, in ridings without Electoral District Associations, the Central Party is able to appoint a candidate. Local Greens may recommend a candidate to the Central Party first, but ultimately, the decision to appoint a particular individual rests with the Party. This is the same in other national political parties.

The Time To Talk About This is Now

In the lead-up to the 2015 election, these are the sorts of discussions which Greens can expect to have amongst ourselves, at the local and national level. What are the priorities of the Party? Do we need to have a Green nominated in every riding? What is our commitment to the notion of electoral co-operation, and can that commitment be interpreted to extend to cross-party conversations at the local level? Greens tend not to be particularly partisan, as a rule of thumb, so there’s probably a lot more tension in our Party between the Central Party and local subdivisions. The “grassroots” nature of the Party is taken very seriously – as it should be, I believe – because we generally share the value of representative democracy.

Over the next several months, Greens are going to have to figure this out – because at some point in the near future, the tension between the Centre and the Locals will be tested over the issue of electoral co-operation. At some point, a decision is going to have to be made about whether it’s ok to not nominate a local candidate to carry the Green Party’s banner in 2015. That kind of decision needs to be an informed decision, and based on the rules of the Party. While it’s bound to make some unhappy, if the decision is explained in the context of our current political reality, it may receive greater acceptance. In my experience, for a number of reasons, explaining these sorts of decisions hasn’t been one of our Party’s strengths. With that in mind, I hope for a different outcome this time around.

Given the unresolved issues around electoral co-operation, is the Green Party of Canada still relevant in our current political circumstance? Some pundits have suggested that we should simply fold up shop and work to have either the Liberals or New Democrats elected, because they have the better chance to Stop Harper. Indeed, many pundits believe that a vote for the Green Party is no better than a vote for the Conservatives, because a Green vote takes away a vote for a New Democrat or Liberal. With this in mind, the question of the Green Party’s relevancy appears to remain unanswered at the conclusion of Part 2 of this series.

In Part 3, this dyed-in-the-wool Green Partisan will definitively answer the question about the Green Party’s relevancy on the Canadian political scene, primarily by looking at what the Green Party of Canada has on offer versus the other parties.

(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 Party of Canada)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Is the Green Party Still Relevant? Part 1: Canada's Political Reality from a Green Perspective

Is the Green Party still relevant?

That probably seems like a bit of a silly question coming from a dyed-in-the-wool Green partisan such as myself. Especially one who just recently blogged about making a personal decision to renew my own efforts within the local chapters of the Green Party (see: “Time to Get Ready for the Future: My Personal Decision”, published July 13, 2013). Yet, with a general election currently scheduled for the fall of 2015, and with Canada truly beginning to suffer from the short-sighted economic policies of our Conservative government, no question about our political future should be removed from the table – including this one.

Over the past year, Greens have been heard heralding our recent electoral successes – which, in the grand scheme of things, have been very minor – except when viewed through the lenses of Canada’s Green parties. In the fall of 2012, four federal by-elections were held, and the Green Party proved to be competitive in two of them, including a strong 3rd place finish in a bastion of Conservative Canada, Calgary Centre. On E-day in Victoria, the Green Party, with clear momentum, led the polls throughout the evening, but when advance ballots were cast, the NDP managed to squeak by. In the May 2013 provincial election in British Columbia, voters elected Andrew Weaver as the first B.C. Green MLA in that province, and two other B.C. Greens, including Leader Jane Sterk, did well at the ballot box. Clearly, this is the type of success which the Green parties in Canada haven’t experienced.

Yet, it’s not all been rosy for Canada’s Green parties. While the 2011 federal general election saw the election of the Green Party’s first Member of Parliament in Elizabeth May, across Canada the Party’s share of the voter percentage was down to less than 4%, after having surged to a high of 6.8% in the 2008 federal election. In the spring 2013 federal by-election in Labrador, the Party, in consultation with local Greens in Labrador, chose not to field a candidate (which was probably the best thing the Party could have done, given our past performances in Labrador). And in 5 by-elections held in Ontario last week, the Green Party of Ontario, after polling between 7% and 9%, managed to gather less than 5% of all votes cast, and in some ridings considerably less than that. Even while taking 4.25% of the vote in London West (the GPO’s best showing), the success story was marred by the fact that the Green Party finished in fifth place behind the upstart Freedom Party (4.9%).

The Conservative Colossus

Polls suggest that a majority of Canadians believe that the current Conservative government is taking the country in the wrong direction. Through Canada’s archaic first-past-the-post electoral system, the Conservative Party was able to form a majority government with only 40% of votes cast (and with the ballot box support of less than 30% of Canadians – the greatest minority of which – 40% - cast their ballots for no one). Rather than acknowledging their limited electoral mandate, Canada has seen the seeds of a wholesale transformation sewn through omnibus budget bills which incorporated everything from changes to environmental and social legislation along with what Canadians would normally think of as “budgetary” measures. Debate has been stifled in parliament, and the right-wing Conservative Party has been able to stand on Election Readiness footing, in part as a result of their ability to raise more government-subsidized money for their political party, while eliminating the more equitable per-vote subsidy all parties had previously received. Indeed, the Conservative Party has become an unaccountable juggernaut which dominates the Canadian political scene. It is questioned little by the mainstream media (whose owners tend to share its short-sighted and greedy economic values), and has proven itself to be effective at delaying legal investigation after legal investigation into its activities and that of its members, both elected and unelected.

The signs were there before the current government was sworn in, but it’s fair to say that the most provocative image for voters who do not identify with the Conservative Party was that of Senate Page Brigette DePape, who was removed from the Senate floor over her silent yet poignant “Stop Harper” display during the 2011 throne speech. What have largely amounted to mute displays of dissatisfaction, however, have been about all that Canadians have been able to muster over the past several years, thanks to the entrenchment of Harper’s majority government.

Electoral Co-Operation: The Liberals and New Democrats

Almost immediately after Election Day in May, 2011, grassroots efforts around the nation began to take shape to promote co-operation amongst opposition parties, and in some cases their outright merger. These efforts were spearheaded by pro-democracy groups such as Avaaz Canada and LeadNow, which believed that the results of the next federal election could also be jeopardized by vote-splitting amongst opposition parties. The unexpected NDP Leadership race, sparked by the death of Leader Jack Layton, was used by some to test the waters for co-operation. MP Nathan Cullen, the only declared pro-co-operation candidate, finished a surprising 3rd in a field rich with big-name New Democrats. Later, the Liberal Leadership race would give rise to its own co-operation candidate in the form of Joyce Murray, who finished in second place, but with only a tiny fraction of Liberal support.

With questions related to a Liberal-NDP merger now firmly answered in the negative by new leaders, even the suggestion of electoral co-operation amongst political parties seems to have completely gone away. Both the NDP and the Liberals have determined that they will fight it out with one another, along with the Conservatives and whoever else, in 2015. Only after the votes are counted and the results are known will the Liberals and the NDP talk about the possibility of working with one another, should circumstances favour that level of co-operation. Two years out from the 2015 general election date, only the Green Party of Canada seems to want to talk about electoral co-operation any more.

Electoral Co-Operation and the Green Party of Canada

In 2012, grassroots members of the Green Party of Canada gave our Federal Council the mandate to work with other parties towards electoral co-operation as long as the goal of a one-time co-operative effort would be to change our first-past-the-post electoral system to a more equitable electoral system, such as proportional representation. To a point, this was what New Democrat Cullen and Liberal Murray had called for – a one-time deal to defeat the Conservatives and change the antiquated rules which led to their false-majority in the first place. Yet, a deal with the Liberals and/or the New Democrats seems very remote at this time, given the direction that their new Leaders Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair have set out on.

Yet, Greens may not be satisfied with the electoral status quo. Will Party Members and supporters choose to cast their ballots for a non-Conservative candidate who is perceived at having the best chance to be elected in a local riding, in preference to a Green candidate that likely has little chance? This, of course, has been the conundrum that Green Party Members and supporters have found themselves in since the Party’s inception. Yet, the conundrum may take on a certain urgency in 2015, given the devastation caused to Canada by the current Conservative government. Clearly, Green Members and supporters might have a greater propensity to cast their ballots for a Liberal or New Democrat in 2015.

Greens and the Nitty-Gritty of Electoral Success

Sure, the Green Party has shown that we have the ability to fight on our own terms, especially in by-elections, where scarce national resources can be concentrated. Yet, for all of that, voters have still not sent another Green to Ottawa to join Elizabeth May. Provincially in B.C., Andrew Weaver was a high-profile candidate who benefitted from a significant injection of Party resources into his riding – a circumstance that very few Green candidates will find themselves in in the 2015 general election. Right now, the Party is doing what it can to promote Deputy Party Leader Georges Laraques as the Montreal-riding of Bourassa’s next MP. Laraque enjoys a certain degree of local popularity, bordering on celebrity status even, but what if voters fail to elect Laraque? We are gambling big in Montreal – the size of our success there could be staggering. But what if we lose the gamble? If Greens can’t get a high-profile candidate like Deputy Leader Georges Laraque elected after running a fully-funded campaign (not to mention all of that pre-writ spending), what might that say to potential Green candidates, Members and supporters?

The reality is that there will be very few ridings in play for the Green Party of Canada in the 2015 general election, and most of those ridings will be in and around British Columbia . Smartly, the Party will be concentrating its financial and volunteer resources in those few ridings deemed “winnable”. What that means for the vast majority of ridings, however, is that the Party will not be able to offer significant levels of support, and local ridings will be left on their own, to sink or swim.

I agree that’s as it should be. If the Party is going to remain relevant after 2015, it’s clear that we’ll need to have more than one MP elected, so focussing our limited resources in those areas with a better chance of success only makes sense. But what about all of the other ridings? Very few will be able to raise even half of their election spending limits in order to mount a serious campaign. Many will certainly nominate candidates to carry the flag, and some of these will do so with an eye towards the building for the future. But if Party Members and supporters realize that there is little chance of success, with the stakes higher than ever before, what sorts of on-the-ground impacts can we likely see?

Greens and the 2015 General Election – Money and Volunteers

One would think that perhaps one of the very first impacts would be that donations to the Party would begin to dry up. If a Green isn’t going to be competitive in a local riding, what’s the point of giving money? The reality we’ve seen so far, however, has been the opposite. Donations to the Green Party are up, and the trend seems to be one which is likely to continue. It may be that Green Members and Supporters are aware that our best chances for success are in by-elections like Calgary Centre, Victoria and the upcoming by-election in Bourassa. It may be that donors have become accustomed to the Party’s wise use of scarce resources, and have given the Party money knowing that it will be spent as-needed, in competitive ridings, rather than in relatively hopeless local circumstances. What this trend suggests to me is that Green financial supporters increasingly understand the need to elect Greens to parliament.

That’s all well and good for the Party, but what about for local candidates? Certainly, it’s not going to be helpful for Green candidates campaigning in non-“winnable” ridings. In some respects, this circumstance makes it even more difficult for local Greens to mount serious campaigns, as financial supporters will have already given to the Central Party with hope for success elsewhere rather than to a local candidate who likely would not succeed. Having said this, it’s not as if this is a completely new reality for the Green Party.

Volunteers, too, may find themselves working the phone for out-of-town campaigns. Or perhaps they will be persuaded to join the campaigns of non-Green candidates, with the hopes that a Liberal or an NDP has a chance of defeating a Conservative. With 3 opposition parties vying for a limited number of volunteers, it’s going to be difficult for Green candidates who will likely not be in contention in local races to make the case to supporters to join their team. Again, this isn’t a new reality for the Green Party. But both this circumstance and the one with donors will likely have a more significant impact on local Green campaigns in 2015, given the expected dynamics at play in that elections.

Greens and the 2015 General Election - Outside Influences

With two popular Opposition Leaders going head-to-head to charm non-Conservative voters, Greens and undecided voters are going to have a tough choice to make. Local political circumstances might come into play (ones based on personalities, funding, well-developed volunteer teams, etc.), although it’s more probable that the national media narrative will have a greater impact on the way in which ballots are cast. Unless Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau falls flat on his face over the next two years, expect the media to line up behind the Liberal Party as the real opposition to Harper (not because of Trudeau himself per se, but more because the national mainstream media has never been a friend of the NDP). Tom Mulcair and the NDP, however, will continue to present a strong message to voters about why they are a better alternative to Trudeau’s Liberals. Both parties will have built up significant election war chests, and both will launch savvy media campaigns. Both parties will also attract quality candidates in ridings which they perceive to be “winnable”. And those ridings will field robust campaign teams, with a mixture of local volunteers and Central Party reps.

In this expected political reality, Greens will continue to be squeezed out of the national media’s narrative, and we will struggle to have our voices heard throughout the campaign, except in certain specific local circumstances. Green candidates are likely not going to have the same starting-point advantages that Liberals and New Democrats have – we will largely lack candidates with household names or the sort of credentials perceived by some to be advantageous for candidates to have. There will be no national media campaign of any significance to promote our Party’s national profile. One of the only opportunities the Green Party might have to be on display on the national political stage – the televised Leader’s debates – is likely going to remain out of reach for Elizabeth May, who has continually been denied participation in the debates by the Broadcast Consortium.

With this in mind, Green Party Members and supporters are right to ask about the Party’s relevance in the vast majority of Canada’s ridings. Why should money or volunteer time, or even support at the ballot box, be given to a Green Party candidate who can’t win and who may, if a decent campaign is mounted, end up splitting the non-Conservative vote, allowing for a Conservative win?

In my next post, I’ll look at what all of this means for the Green Party of Canada at the local level, and examine some of the conversations which are currently going on amongst Greens in local Electoral District Associations (EDA’s). Is political co-operation with other parties the answer in some parts of Canada? Is it even possible at the local level, given the structure of our Party? And I’ll continue to assess whether the Green Party of Canada remains relevant in our current Canadian political reality.

(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 Party of Canada)