Wednesday, November 13, 2019

OK Greens, Where Do We Go From Here?

"Greens might take some solace in seeing Elizabeth May returned to the House accompanied by two new B.C.-based MP's (and having had a few other candidates show strong second-place finishes in B.C. and New Brunswick).  But 3 MP's will prove a disappointment for a Party that sees Green fortunes rising around the world, but can do little to tap into the same sentiment here in Canada, in part thanks to our antique First Past the Post electoral system.  Before the year is out, May will announce her pending departure as Party leader in 2020, although she will stay on as MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands." - From: "Crystal Ball Gazing: (Mainly) Political Predictions for 2019," Sudbury Steve May, December 31, 2018. 

OK.  So here we are, with a bittersweet election behind us, an interim leader in place, and a leadership contest coming up quickly.  I guess nobody would have thought that we'd end up here at the end of 2019....

Ahem.  Anyway, here we are.  Perhaps it's time for the Green Party of Canada and its engaged members to give some serious consideration about where we go from here.  

I think we have several options - some of which are admittedly pretty bold.  Let me lay them out for you.

We can opt to continue to muddle along as we've always done.  I expect that's the most likely route that we're going to take, even though this option is going to likely lead to disappointment during the next election, as well.

Change, though, is never easy - and that's especially true for engaged Greens who are, like every other partisan, pretty set in our ways.  Add the fact that we haven't been asked to change much over the past 13 years, and you can see how our complacency has become fairly intractable.  I don't think that Greens are going to opt to shift gears in any significant way over the next year - but if we were to think about doing it, clearly now is the time.

We do have some other options.  Rather than muddling through, Greens could boldly choose someone from outside of the Party with a high profile on whom to pin our hopes for success.  Forget about policy and all that - let's run on the basis that our leader is golden - or at least better than the other leaders - and let's see Greens elected because of her (whomever she may be).

Alternatively, maybe it's time to rethink just who and what our Party is.  Perhaps the way to success lies not in emulating the NDP or the Liberals, but instead using the Bloc Quebecois as our model.

Or maybe it's time to acknowledge that the Green Party of Canada simply does not have the time to elect enough Green MP's to create the change that we need in Canada right now, because of the climate crisis.  With the clock ticking, maybe we ought to be looking around for a wagon to hitch ourselves to that can carry a few more of us over the finish line - even if that means that the Green Party of Canada as we know it, ceases to be.

Merge with the NDP

Let's explore that last option first, as it's the one that I think we ought to seriously explore - even though the NDP and its present leader Jagmeet Singh opted to burn bridges with our Party during the recent election.  I know some New Democrats have simply shrugged about that and said, "Hey, Politics" but the fact of the matter is the NDP has some serious issues with ethics that make them a very undesirable partner for a merger.

I like to describe myself as the Green Party's most partisan Partisan - and I've been writing for years about how the NDP is a) just not serious about the climate crisis; and, b) infected by a culture of winning to the point that it no longer stands for much of anything.  With recent bridges burnt, why the hell am I suggesting that merger with the New Democrats is in the interest of Greens?

It all comes back to timing.  The IPCC gave us just 12 years to get our act together on the climate crisis - and that was last year.  We just went through an election where the other three national parties were running on climate action plans that were woefully inadequate to achieve Canada's weak targets.  The NDP's plan was a little better than that offered up by the Liberals, but even that plan wasn't good enough.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

But the NDP, under Singh, have moved the ball in their own party over the past several years.  I know, I know: I can hear Greens now saying that this was just to get elected - that the NDP would do or say anything to win votes, but at the end of the day, they're not serious climate champions.  Look at how Singh caved to Trudeau in his list of "demands" that failed to include beefing up Canada's emission reduction targets.  

Look, I get it.  And I'll throw in a John Horgan who continues to pimp out LNG, and a Rachel Notley who never saw a pipeline she didn't like.  I get it.  But the NDP has upped its game enough that they are now closer to the Green Party on many issues - closer than they've ever been before.

And if we're simply going to keep electing a number of MP's that we can count on a single hand (and that seems to be the direction the Party is heading in), what is the point of wasting more time and effort, treasure and sweat, in ridings like Sudbury and Central Nova and Kelowna?

Greater than the Sum of Our Parts

If we worked with the NDP instead of against them, we will have a much greater chance of electing MP's that are a little more serious about taking action on the climate crisis.  What I'm talking about doesn't have to be an outright merger with the NDP - but that's probably the cleanest way of proceeding, given the media's ability to misconstrue and muddle any intentions that aren't a binary black/white choice.

The NDP is not exactly the healthiest political party out there at this time.  There are elements in that party who would be open to a merger.  Sure, like we Greens, there are New Democrats who would be appalled at the notion of merging - but if talks could take place first at high levels, and the memberships of both parties be presented with, I don't know, some sort of values-based agreement in principle - I bet we could pull off a merger before the next election.

And elect more MPs together than we would have separately.

Regional Green Parties

Alternatively, the Green Party of Canada could just pack it in throughout most of the country.  Fact of the matter is, we're pretty sparse on the ground in most of Canada's regions anyway.  I've often wondered what I'm doing here in a no-hope riding, just waving the flag when it's like pulling teeth to find someone, anyone, to help grow our presence here.  I'm sure I'm not the only one, and that Sudbury isn't the only riding where this is happening.

Fact of the matter is, national campaigns cost money.  What if we didn't do that, because there was no longer a national party?  What if we focused our efforts on electing Greens just in certain regions, like Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and the Maritimes?  Dissolve the Green Party of Canada, and from its ashes see two or three regional Green Parties rise up - each with its own member-approved mandate and policies, tailored for regional success.

Sure, those parties might not receive the same level of national exposure as a single Green Party of Canada would.  But now that Elizabeth May is gone, how much exposure do you expect the Green Party of Canada to receive over the next few years?  What level of success have we experienced so far, doing what we've been doing, and what are our expectations going forward?  They're not great.

Regional parties are actually very much in keeping with our values for participatory democracy - in a way that, say, a full national party in a nation as regionally divided as Canada is, isn't.  Yes, it might mean that Greens like me are left homeless in some of the regions - but maybe we'd have to find new homes and work from inside the other parties to create the changes that we want to see.  It's not ideal, but we don't have time for ideal.

PR-Driven Leader

I understand that dissolving the Green Party of Canada probably isn't high on anybody's list of "things to do" right now (even though it really ought to be), so the best that we're likely to do if we want to see more Green MP's elected (and that's a big "if" for many in our party) would be to find a leader with a high profile who can stay in the media's eye until the next E-Day.  Yes, I'm talking about winning on the basis of public relations.  A leader that looks and sounds great, who people know, and trust (and maybe even like).  They wouldn't have to be a policy heavy-weight.  They'd just have to be able to deliver the goods.  Think about how Ben Mulroney's name is being floated right now in Conservative circles.  Or how Svend Robinson's name might have been floated in New Democratic circles had he won a seat.

Pamela Anderson
Even this is a tall order.  There isn't anyone like that in the Party right now.  And the membership would probably hate that concept just as much (or more) than a merger or a dissolution of the national party to create regional entities.  We'd have to find somebody from outside of the Party to step in and take on this role.  Jody Wilson-Raybould might be the most obvious choice, but I've seen some Greens floating names like Naomi Klein and Megan Leslie.  I myself keep floating Kathleen Wynne's name (although I can't seriously imagine she'd want the job - but then again, I can't imagine Klein or Leslie would, either).  Some have even suggested Pamela Anderson.  In all seriousness, I'm not actually sure how I feel about that idea - there is a hell of a lot of merit to finding a celebrity like Anderson to lead our Party.

Rick Mercer
If he wasn't such a Liberal, I'd totally suggest Rick Mercer.

Anyway, point is, these are the types of leaders that we really ought to be thinking about right now.  I understand that their own values may not always be in keeping with the values of the Party, but if they can bring themselves to take on the role of spokesperson that our Party's Constitution mandates our leaders to adopt, that might just be enough for, let's say, more ideologically-driven Green candidates to find themselves winning seats.

After all, election campaigns aren't about policy.  They're about being able to deliver a message of confidence and competence.  The Green Party just got through running an election campaign that (where anyone noticed it at all) was largely based on fear - it wasn't a good look for us, despite the fact that the world is going to become one hell of a scary place if we don't get our act together.  Mostly, though, Elizabeth May was left having to explain why Greens weren't anti-choice, racists, in bed with separatists, and really did do politics differently despite Warren Kinsella and photoshop.  There was little opportunity to tell voters why having a plan to tackle climate change sorta kinda mattered.

And that's not going to change.  

Jagmeet Singh probably salvaged losing a half dozen seats on the basis of "Mr. Deny and Mr. Delay" alone.  Two-second zingers in leadership debates count for more than a fully-costed climate action plan that would still see the economy grow by 1.3%.

And no, I'm not being facetious here.  I wish more Greens understood this.  We can have all of the policies in the world to save the world - but if we don't have the media's attention, it won't matter.  

But Greens don't want to hear this.  I can't really blame them - it's cynical and it's crappy.  It doesn't necessarily have to be, though.  Think about all of the people NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has inspired - just don't contrast that number to the number of people that Singh has turned off with his touchy-feely hope-y whatever.  A lot of people like that lightweight stuff.  It sells.  It's not something that any Green could have ever asked Elizabeth May to do - but it works.

Muddling Through

Most likely, we Greens will do nothing.  We'll be offered up a smorgasboard of nomination contestants that most of us don't know, and we'll have little opportunity to find out who, exactly, these people are, and what they stand for.  Their own vision won't matter all that much anyway - for if anyone does start talking about taking the party in a 'new direction' they're going to run into the ire of the membership, which is the unit of the party that sets policy (not the leader).

Sure, they'll each talk about organization - and maybe this is how they'll set themselves apart from one another.  Engaged Greens will love to hear about how a new leader is going to rebuild the Party from the inside out, and about how they'll work with the administration to find the funds for a more robust organizing team.  

I won't be looking for any of that.  There's just not enough time.  Yes, if we're going to function as a national party, we need better organization on the ground - especially at the EDA level.  But that's going to take years.  And we don't have years.

Better to elect a strong leader who can motivate voters with her speaking style, her charisma, her passion, and (best yet) her experience.  Let our #elxn44 candidates ride her coat-tails in a dozen (or a couple of dozen) ridings.  Our focus, going forward, has to be on winning more seats.

But it won't be.  It will continue to be a mish-mash of priorities which see maybe one or two things getting done, while most of the rest are half-assed while a few important things prove to be just too big or too intractable to tackle.  And we'll just continue to muddle along.  Sure, maybe our national support level will drop back down to 3% in the next election - but with a new leader at the helm - someone whom voters have never heard of - well, 3%'ll be pretty good, won't it?

The Clock is Ticking

Muddling through is a legitimate path for any organization to take. In normal times, I might even be an advocate.  But with the clock ticking and time for serious climate action growing short, these aren't normal times.  I continue to believe that we can achieve so much more if we opt to work with the NDP.  And if that's just not on, then let's focus our efforts on building regional powerbases rather than trying to keep a truly national organization afloat.  But if we are going to try to hack it out nationally, let's at least find a leader whom everyone knows and get behind them as they talk about no more than three-to-five bullet points each and every day until E-Day.

Failing that, I guess we just elect whomever and hope for the best.  But if we take that course, let's not kid ourselves about the potential for success.  It's the easy way out, for sure - but it's not going to help our 5th place party.

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

1 comment:

Ottawa Grant said...

I've followed the GPC since Joan Rossow & Jim Harris, and I knew about EM because a University student association I was involved with in the early 90s subscribed to the Sierra reports- but really how well was she known in 2006 except by those who followed her particular campaigns? Was her overwhelming victory of David Chernushenko due to her online presentation or his underwhelming performance in leadership contention debates? Did the party apparatus in 2006 or those managing EM's run have particular connections in the media? Who set up her up with Rick Mercer to chainsaw a tree for cheap PR? The impression I had at the time was that under Jim the party had gradually increased its exposure and was ready to compete with the NDP and the leaderless LPC, and EM met the challenge of charming the conventional media in the limited window of opportunity she had to do so. Or had the party been hoarding enough leftover campaign cash to send her around the country to whatever networks interested in an interview? Will the 2019 version of the GPC braintrust manage to repeat the serendipity of 2006 and yet ensure that a political novice will not be in the position of making the critical campaign mistakes of 2008 and beyond?