Sunday, December 30, 2018

Courtesy Shmertecy! Greens are Making a Mistake in Burnaby

Let me just start this blogpost by pointing out that Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May is one of the classiest politicos that I know.  She sure as hell has more respect for our parliamentary processes than I could ever muster.  She is a parliamentarian first, and the leader of the Green Party second.  

Me?  I couldn't do her job.  I am far too much of a rabid partisan.  I would never be able to play nicely with others in the same way that May tries.  And when I see how often May has been rebuffed by her political opponents - particularly those in the New Democratic Party - I sometimes wonder why she continues to try.  Being a partisan is easy.  Being a parliamentarian - not so much.

Burnaby South

So it's with this in mind that I wanted to begin a short conversation on how I feel the Green Party of Canada - my party - is blowing it big-time with regards to the upcoming Burnaby South by-election.  As you might know, the Green Party won't be running a candidate in Burnaby South, due to something that's fallen a little out of fashion with parliamentarians called "leader's courtesy".

Elizabeth May
Or so Elizabeth May says.  And really, who am I to doubt that?  I know that the Green Party has never done all that well in Burnaby, finishing a distant fourth place in both Burnaby South and Burnaby North-Seymour in the last federal election (despite the presence of what should be 'sacred ground' for the Green Party in the form of Burnaby Mountain and the on-going protests there over the Trans Mountain Pipeline - and despite the presence of Simon Fraser University, Burnaby Mountain arrestee and"star" candidate Lynne Quarmby in Burnaby North-Seymour).  And I also get that Greens probably want to face off against an New Democratic Party headed by current leader Jagmeet Singh in the 2019 federal election - something that appears to be unlikely to happen should Singh lose the by-election in Burnaby.

I understand the math.  And I understand the politics.  And I understand 'leader's courtesy' is something that the Green Party of Canada has engaged in before - specifically in the 2008 election when the Greens did not run a candidate against Stephane Dion in Saint-Laurent (and the Liberals did not run a candidate against the Greens in May's riding of Central Nova.

Sites on Singh
Jagmeet Singh

It's unusual - but not unheard of - for a national party leader to be in a position similar to the one that Singh presently finds himself in: coronated leader by the Party, but without a seat in the House.  The original plan for Singh was that he was going to ride out his time outside of parliament as an unelected leader, in order to better get in touch with the people.  But after having disappeared from view for the better part of a year and a half, and having been eclipsed on the federal scene by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (with whom he appears to share little love), Singh's handlers finally got the message that maybe it was time for him to work his way into parliament.

With now-former NDP MP Kennedy Stewart stepping aside in Burnaby South to take a shot as Mayor of Vancouver (an election that he won), the Prime Minister must now call a by-election in that riding sometime very soon.  The three old-line parties are all organized, with the Liberals selecting their candidate, Karen Wang, just this past week (see: "Karen Wang wins Liberal nomination in Burnaby South to take on NDP leader Jagmeet Singh," the Canadian Press, December 29, 2018).  Singh and Wang will take on Conservative Party candidate Jay Shin in what is expected to be a tight 3-way race (Max Bernier's People's Party appear to have fielded a no-hope anti-LGBTQ right-wing extremist candidate - see: "It looks like this anti-SOGI activist is running in Burnaby South," Burnaby Now, December 29, 2018).

Burnaby Critical for the NDP

It is completely fair to say that the NDP's fortunes hang in the balance of this by-election - although it's not exactly clear how.  If Singh wins - and with Kennedy only taking the riding last time by a little over 500 votes, a Singh win is far from a sure thing - but if Singh wins and winds up in parliament, the NDP will continue with him as leader into the 2019 federal election.  

But if Singh loses, you can bet that the knives are going to come out - and the only question that I have is just how quickly Singh steps down as leader, or is deposed.  My bet is that he will stay on, past due - before he goes and the NDP tries to pull a last-minute Doug Ford out of their hat.

And I don't think Singh is going to do it.  Fact is, I had a high - and potentially unrealistic - hopes for Jagmeet Singh as leader of the New Democrats (see: "Jagmeet Singh's Leadership Success Points the Way Forward for Electoral Co-Operation Between Greens, NDP," Sudbury Steve May, October 3, 2017).  I thought that the NDP would rally around Singh and that they could present him as a smart and natty progressive foil to Justin Trudeau.  Look, I'm a partisan - but I've never believed for a moment that Trudeau was elected because the Liberals had better policy than the other parties.  There was something about the way that Trudeau connected with Canadians - especially young Canadians - in 2015 that propelled him to victory.  I thought Singh had some of that same stuff. I still think he does.  But when you don't get any ink, you don't leave voters with a lot to think about.  We knew Trudeau in 2015 and for decades before that in a way that we've never known Singh.  But still, I was optimistic.

No longer. It's hard to determine anything else about Singh other than he's been a disaster for the NDP.  With the New Democrats mired in the polls between 16% and 19%, with several disastrous recent by-elections under their belt, and with polling showing that they might be completely wiped out in Quebec - the stronghold that Jack built - Singh appears to have led the NDP in only one direction - right down the drain.

Playing the Game

Of course, this is a bit of a gift to Justin Trudeau's Liberals, who also understand political calculus very well.  When the NDP performs well, Canada usually ends up with a Conservative government.  When they do poorly, we get Liberals.  And it's because of this political calculus that I suspect we'll end up with another Liberal majority government.

But there is a similar calculus at play here for the Green Party.  Where the NDP doesn't do all that well, Greens can get elected.  Look at what's happened recently in New Brunswick and PEI with the collapse of the provincial NDP parties - three Greens elected in New Brunswick and the Green Party polling in top spot - above the governing Liberals - in PEI.  In the Ontario riding of Guelph, the NDP vote collapsed, and Ontario Green leader Mike Schreiner was elected - despite the NDP having the best showing in an Ontario election since Bob Rae was elected Premier.

So I get that. leader's courtesy aside - it appears to make a lot of sense for the Greens not to run a candidate against Mr. Singh in the upcoming by-election in Burnaby South, and instead keep our powder dry and our fingers crossed that Singh ekes out a victory.  In the long run, that's probably the best that the Green Party could hope for in Burnaby.  Why spend a lot of money to finish in 4th in a by-election?

So here's where I failed that course in political strategy.  And granted, I suspect that the Green Party is happy not to be taking my advice.  But I remain a partisan, a purist, and there is simply something that I can't abide by going on out in B.C. right now.

Greens Can't Sit on Our Hands

At a time of climate crisis, when our national government is purchasing pipelines and subsidizing fossil fuel enterprises like never before - at the very time that we should be weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels and laying the groundwork for a just transition - we have in Burnaby South three political parties that have all embraced massive public subsidies for a completely new fossil enterprise - one that rival the Alberta tar sands in emissions.  And if you haven't already guessed, I'm talking about Pacific LNG here.
Neslon Muntz

All three parties - the Conservatives, Liberals and yes, the "environment-friendly" (HA-HA a la Nelson Muntz) NDP - all three parties have publicly embraced LNG development - with Justin Trudeau's "climate champion" (HA-HA again) government committing to transferring public wealth to some of the richest fossil fuel companies in the world - to the tune of $5 billion (see: "LNG Canada project called a ‘tax giveaway’ as B.C. approves massive subsidies," the Narwhal, October 2, 2018).

Look - we know quite clearly now that this is the kind of political stupidity that we have to stop.  Unfortunately, Canada's three old-line political parties just haven't got the message.  Voters understand that we need to take real and serious action on climate change - but subsidizing a new fossil fuel enterprise is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing.  But voters who will be heading to the polls in Burnaby South in early 2019 will have no candidates who are advocating a sane approach to the climate crisis.  All they'll get are three pro-LNG types - one of whom is Singh, who leads a party that should, frankly, know better.

Our Moment?

Some who are in the know a lot more than me are predicting that the Green Party will be the Party to watch in the upcoming federal election (see: "Elizabeth May predicts she won’t stand alone after the next election," the Canadian Press, December 28, 2018), I'm not nearly as optimistic that the Party is going to be able to get its act together to have much of an impact.  I understand that voters are looking for something different right now - a place to park their ballots, even if for only one election - and all things being equal, the Green Party should be a place where those votes could go.

But I can read the polls.  Greens are polling at about 7% nationally.  That's not great.  And it's Greens have been polling there for the past year. Since 2015.  Since 2011.  Since 2008.  It's been a pretty flat line in terms of polling - one that only appears to dip on election day.  Even with an NDP decline, I'm not sure that the GPC is going to be able to buck this trend.  With less than a year to go pre-election, I haven't seen any data which excites me significantly (other than the GPC's financial filings - I know that Greens like to complain about all the money asks they get via email - but you know what?  It works).  
Lynne Quarmby

In Burnaby, for a couple of weeks this winter, a strong Green candidate like Lynne Quarmby could have had a bit of a national platform to hammer the NDP (and the other parties) over the head about LNG.  The Party would spend some of that new money, sure - maybe something like the $50,000 the Party spent a few years ago for an abysmal showing in the 2014 Trinity-Spadina by-election, where we fielded an excellent candidate, but....were still the Green Party.  And Quarmby or whomever would lose - likely finishing in fourth place.  But B.C. voters would know that the Green Party of Canada is going to be serious in all B.C. ridings and provide voters with a real choice come October, 2019.

Provincial Benefit

And how could this hurt the Green Party.....of British Columbia?  Look, chances are that B.C. voters are going to be heading to the polls in 2019 now that the electoral reform referendum has come and gone.  Greens getting publicity in Burnaby over LNG - a provincial issue far more than a federal one - is something that Andrew Weaver's Green Party of B.C. can certainly use to its advantage, as it appears to be the one defining environmental issue of significant substance that separates the Greens from B.C. Premier John Horgan's New Democrats (after Weaver foolishly opted to 'play nice' with the NDP over Site C - to the shame of Greens everywhere - see: "Andrew Weaver defends Green Party's choices on Site C," CBC News, December 17, 2017).

Let's face it: Weaver's Greens are in trouble should B.C. voters head to the polls in 2019.  Fresh off of a monumental loss on the electoral reform referendum, and with B.C. public opinion starting to turn (away from Greens) on pipelines, if Horgan pulls the plug on his government, the B.C. Greens will be lucky to hold on to any of the seats they now currently hold.  Like the Green Party of Canada, the B.C. Greens have been mired in the polls (well, unlike the GPC, BC Greens have been mired at around 16% - which is nothing to sneeze at, but still does not guarantee a seat in the next legislature in a 3-party set-up like they've got out in B.C.).

Green Skin in the Game

The very worst outcome for the Greens, should the Party run a candidate in Burnaby South, would be to potentially siphon off enough votes from Singh that he doesn't get elected, and gets tossed as leader in favour of someone more dynamic, like Nathan Cullen  Thing is, even without a Green candidate, there's a very real possibility that Singh is going to blow the by-election.  And with a Green candidate in play, there's no reason at all, from where I sit, to think that New Democratic votes are going to be the ones to suffer.  We know that Green candidates pull from all parties - the Cons a little less, and the NDP and the Liberals a little more.  In Burnaby South, with the NDP throwing everything that they've got into the fray, I'd actually expect a fourth-place Green to draw a little more from the Libs and Cons than from the New Democrats.  

Ya, ok, whatever.  A Green candidate would change the electoral dynamics, but no one really knows how.  And May might take a bit of a hit for promising 'leader's courtesy' and then reneging - but at least she could say, "You know what?  I didn't want to run a candidate, but Singh is running around the country saying what a great thing LNG is - and that's just not acceptable.  Not in this time of climate crisis."  And since only a dozen or so people across the country are aware at this time that the Greens are committed to sitting Burnaby out, how big of a hit would May take anyway?

A Call for Action

It's the time for action.  The climate crisis demands it.  Sitting out the by-election in Burnaby South - just so a weak opposition leader can get elected and (hopefully) run his party into the ground in enough ridings so that one or two more Greens have an easier time to get elected - to hell with that.  Is the Green Party of Canada going to start behaving like a serious political party that actually offers something different for voters - all voters?  Or are we going to stick with our nicey-nicey "we're just doing politics differently" mantra that has served us so well over the past decade - so well that we've managed to elect a grand total of 9 Greens to federal and provincial office since I joined the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario in 2007.

Sorry, Green Party - we're making a mistake here.  Maybe not a big one.  But a big enough one.  I keep hearing insiders say that 2019 could be our year.  The pollsters are saying it.  Hell, even my relatives were asking about it over an enforced "politics free" Christmas dinner.  If so many people believe this - why don't I?

Run someone in Burnaby South - show me that we're for real - and perhaps I'll be better positioned to climb on board the bandwagon.

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

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