The Greens? Care about the environment?

Pining for electoral reform—the real Green cause—as the planet burns is pure political narcissism

The greens? Care about the environment?

Frank Gunn/CP

Getting banned from the leaders’ debates was probably the best thing that could have happened to Green party Leader Elizabeth May. It gave her serious national media attention for the first time since the writ was dropped and earned her the support and sympathy of pundits across the political spectrum. It also allowed May to strike her favourite pose as the innocent victim of our first-past-the-post electoral system—which, face it, is the issue May and her party care most about, certainly more than they care about the environment.

There are basically two ways you can influence the way policy gets made in this country. The first, and most direct, is by working within a large political party to gain political power so you can make policy yourself. The second is by lobbying politicians to implement the policies you want. Since it was formed in 1983, the Green party has been an ineffective hybrid—a single-issue lobby group that also happened to run candidates in federal elections, finding no great success by either measure.

Elizabeth May’s victory in the 2006 leadership race was supposed to change all of that. Electing the popular and charismatic May was the party’s attempt at becoming a serious political party, with the overarching goal of an environmentally sustainable economy served by a broad electoral platform promoting smart jobs, green energy and fair trade.

But almost everything May does seems calculated to confound that ambition. Yes, in the 2008 election the Greens became only the fourth party in Canadian history to run candidates in all 308 ridings, suggesting that electing MPs to the House of Commons would be a priority. They also got their first MP, thanks to Liberal floor-crosser Blair Wilson, which helped May’s case for inclusion in the leaders’ debates. The party ended up winning almost a million votes, a 41 per cent gain over 2006.

But May also made bizarre choices, beginning with her suicidal decision to run against Peter MacKay. She also repeatedly advised Canadians to vote strategically and support Liberal candidates against Conservatives (and ahead of Greens), and she stopped barely short of outright endorsing Dion for prime minister, with her as minister of the environment. So much for getting elected.

In other words, it was business as usual for the Greens: half political party, half lobby group, and it is hard to see how this helped anyone except the Conservatives. Certainly it didn’t help the Greens’ eponymous cause. While May’s obvious affection for Dion and his policies was annoying the hell out of her own party, those 308 Green candidates were bleeding votes from Liberals. According to a custom analysis of 2008 electoral results by punditsguide.ca, while the Green vote alone didn’t cost the Liberals any seats, it certainly contributed to their demise in a number of ridings. And so in the end, the Conservatives got re-elected, Dion lost so badly he got chased out as party leader, and the Greens elected zero MPs. Lose, lose, lose.

The same scenario looks to repeat itself, except this time there isn’t even a decent green Liberal platform to support, with Dion—and the environment—playing no noticeable role in the campaign.

Yet none of this seems to bother Green party supporters. When May was told she would not be invited to the leaders’ debate, did the party hold a national “rally for the environment” or “protest against climate change”? Nope. Instead, they sponsored an online petition protesting her exclusion, and staged five “rallies for democracy” across the country aimed at corralling enough support to get the media consortium to cave, as it did in 2008.

In fact, what is remarkable about this election campaign is how little interest the Green party seems to have in pushing environmental issues onto the national table. Instead, their overarching campaign narrative is of the party’s ongoing suffering at the hands of our broken, obsolete, unjust and undemocratic electoral system. If only we had proportional representation, goes the plaintive cry, the Greens would be serious players in Parliament.

But we don’t have proportional representation, and the Greens wishing that it were otherwise is like a million young girls desperately wishing for a pony. Except in this case, the stakes actually matter, and pining for electoral reform while the planet burns is pure political narcissism.

In retrospect, the 2008 election was a glorious opportunity for the Green party to have entered into some sort of formal merger with the Dion Liberals. By the standards of big-tent politics, there were almost no serious policy differences between the two parties. With climate change now a completely moribund issue in North America, the Liberal “Green Shift” platform is starting to look like the last good hope to have done anything about greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

But that would have been a sign the system works, and if we’ve learned anything, it is that what the Green party is most invested in proving is that the system doesn’t work. Instead of working within a political party to advance its number one cause, it is doing everything it can to remain on the outside; all the better to serve up its leader as a martyr to a hopeless and misguided theory of democracy.




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The Greens? Care about the environment?

  1. May bet the farm when she decided (through her friendly and obedient Council) to make getting her elected in SGI the party's #1 priority for the 2011 election. No winny, no leady The chickens are getting ready to roost.

    Overall, good column – one correction – I think it was the 2004 or 2006 election (maybe both) when leader Jim Harris ran a full slate of candidates. This was a result of Chretien's $1.75 (at the time) per vote subsidy if the party gathered above 2% nationally. This allowed borrowing /financing against further rebates to finance the national campaign.

    • Also, Blair Wilson didn't cross the floor. He was kicked out of the Liberal caucus and subsequently joined the greens.

  2. I have to take issue with the idea that the Green Party is a single issue Party. It's not, and it never has been. The point about being a hybrid between a political party and a lobby group can be somewhat justified. And I don't think that's a bad thing, given that lobby groups are committed to their issues, and come at them based on a set of shared values, whereas political parties tend to base decisions on political expediency.____You will recall that in the 2008 Leader's debate, when asked what she wanted to accomplish most in government, May said that proportional representation was the #1 issue. Seems strange coming from the leader of a one-issue (environment) Party, no? Well, yes and no. Recall that set of shared values

    • While the Green Party is most certainly not a single platform party, they are definitely what could be called a scattered platform party. Each planned policy seems nearly unrelated to the next, and there appears to be no solid direction on anything beyond eco-consciousness.

      Making manufacturing more expensive while hoping that more companies will move factory jobs back to Canada? One or the other people!

      • That's the problem. We have to do both, or sustainability can never be achieved.

        • The point is that you CAN'T do both. You can't drive up the price of manufacturing in this country with various green taxes and then expect these companies and corporations to move their factories back to Canada because it's the nice thing to do. The Greens are shooting for the stars without any bother to a plan.

  3. cont…

    Clearly, promoting a representative democratic system is a value shared by all Greens. But it's also an environmental issue.

    As the author of this article points out clearly, you can influence public policy through lobbying, or by electing people to make different decisions. One of the key ways for real action to take place regarding climate change will be to have MP's in the House who take the issue seriously, which we currently do not have. This despite the fact that over 80% of Canadians have identified climate change as an issue of concern on which they would like to see their government take action.

    Proportional representation isn't about electing more Greens. It's about balancing MP's in the House so that the democratic expressions of all Canadians are considered. If Canadians want action on the environment, a truly representative House of Commons has to be a starting point.

    And for the health of our democracy, it's the right thing to do. Let every vote count.

    • So you are saying that we should change our electoral system because Greens can't elect anyone anywhere in Canada?
      When that doesn't work, what will you ask for next

    • When put to a vote, Proportional Representation has been rejected…soundly rejected…by voters.

      Democracy in action.

  4. Pour one out for the Green Shift

  5. Well I for one agree with Andrew Potter. I was a long time PC who became a Green after the Uniting of the Right left me without a political home. I then became a Green Candidate in 2008. The experience was disheartening and disillusioning. The party was organized and run like a protest movement. The opportunity existed to build the party base for the future, perhaps like the early CCF or Reform parties. Instead the moment was lost, strategic voting was called for at the last minute, and we, the candidates, were thrown under the bus by the national Party. In short they weren't and aren't serious about building a party to compete in the first past the post world. I happen to agree that some form of PR or New Zealand style set-up would be preferable, but until the existing parties and public come around to that point of view, it is not going to change just because it would be more convenient for the Green.
    So after years as a member of the left wing of the PC's, then the right wing of the Greens, I have taken out a Liberal membership, thanked my lucky stars that I don't have to pretend to like Jean Cretien to do so, and I have been working to get my local Liberal MP re-elected. He believed in the Green Shift as proposed by Dion, but knows it was and will continue to be a tough sell to Canadians until such time as the public momentum shifts. Remember that pre-1990 it was impossible to get ordinary Canadians to treat debt and deficit as important, now it is gospel truth for all political parties.

    • Since tou've tried the other two parties, I guess the NDP is the next party to join

      • Because blind, unquestioning loyalty is *so* much more intelligent, you mean?

  6. Did anyone expect anything else out of Crazy Lizzie. It's always been all about her. She has made a life time career out of throwing friends and associates under the bus for her own self aggrandizement and advancement. Her slimy deal with Dion to get fat a**e in the Senate for life and a cabinet post are prime examples of the way she does business. I wonder how many of her "useful idiots" lost their deposit when she all but told people to vote liberal in the last days of the last election. Why has no one asked the question as to why she has never run in Cape Brenton, her adopted home? The answer is after the fiasco of a law suit against the pulp mill and her interference against any and all methods to clean up the Sydney Tar Ponds has made her unelectable as dog catcher there. No accident she fled to the West Coast. We all know her far too well here. It's also no accident she got into politics after taxpayer funding became available for a fake party. It looks like the Green will limp into election day at about 3%. Mission accomplished. Don't worry about Lizzie, she always lands on her feet. Lot's of easily fooled suckers out there. Cheers.

    • what are you her ex-husband? or do you just like to insult people on public forums?

  7. You're at 3.4% in the latest Nanos poll. Get over yourselves. You're about as relevant as the Rhinos.

  8. reads like a vindictive piece from a petty man (which i'm sure you aren't, but thats how it reads) . First you are mad they are a one issue party, now your mad they haven't stuck to that 1 issue! make up your mind.

  9. Layton Mania !

    Jack won the debates for me, no other leader can touch Jack as an average Joe Canadian you can TRUST.

    I was considering voting Liberal(ABHarperRegime), but when Jack mentioned the Liberal leaders lack of attendance it really hit a nerve for me, as I've always thought to myself that I just cant picture Iggy sitting their in opposition if he looses the leadership?, I think he'll be long gone back to his American home.

    The hardest working MP in Parliament, bar none.

    • Thank you for that post from the NDP war room. How are the coffee and donuts there?

    • Jack and his wife are career politicians who have never had a real job in their lives. They will retire multi millionaires who will retire with gold plated pensions payed for by the likes of fool like you. They have about in much in common with the common man as Donald Trump. Good God.

    • I'm especially impressed by his energetic campaign to finish in second place: I suppose it's almost prime-ministerial to constantly attack the official opposition, but someone really should remind wee Jack that in an election, one typically campaigns against the party in power. I look forward to the upcoming NDP ads, hammering away at the Pirate Party's economic platform.

  10. There's no pleasing some people. If the Greens pursue a non-environmental concern they are accused of abandoning the planet and their sacred mandate.Yet when they raise environmental issues they're called a "one trick pony".

  11. The PC's still had two members. How many did the Greens have?

    • How many seats did the pc's start out with?

  12. from all appearances, it's all about dizzy lizzy. With the incoming Conservative majority the vote money will be gone and this fringe group will sink or swim on its own.

  13. How come the so-called Greens never have a word to say about Canada's idiotic mass immigration policies that are destroying Canada's environment by creating demand for more and more housing subdivisions that are encroaching on rich farmland and ecologically sensitive wilderness areas? Have they never been to the Greater Toronto Spawl Zone to see this process taking place? Do they not know that more immigration also means more cars on Canada's roads with more resultant air pollution, especially in our gridlocked cities? Does it not occur to them that artificially increasing Canada's population leads to major increases in the demand for energy of all kinds?

  14. Except in this case, the stakes actually matter, and pining for electoral reform while the planet burns is pure political narcissism.

    Riiiiight. It couldn't possibly be a failure of both of the two major paties in Canda – and their supporters – who together have had their hand on the tiller for as long as a 'burning planet' has been thought to be an issue.

    No. In Andrew Potter's world the Greens have failed by not doing enough to force the CPC and/or the LPC to take some action.

    Good grief.

  15. But we don't have proportional representation, and the Greens wishing that it were otherwise is like a million young girls desperately wishing for a pony.

    Lame, lame, lame.

    Cuz a young girl wishing for a pony is so, well, just so stupid, don't you see?

  16. I can understand theGreens wanting their own party, but past history shows that is just takes votes from the liberal and NDP candidates that could further their cause. Time for them to pull up stakes and join the party that best suits their needs.

  17. Anyone out there remember a small and radical party called… the Reform Party of Canada? and the Wester Alliance? well I do and now they are the Conservatives. Anybody who thinks the current incarnation of the Conservative Party is the old PC party is sorely mistaken. The NDP started small and now look they are poised to be stronger in this session than ever before. The Green Party is a world wide party which looks long term not just to the next election. If people really cared to look the 134 page Vision statement is on the web site year round and doesn't get changed for each election like some other party platforms and statements I could name.

    • The "world wide green party" is an assortment of fruit cakes and discredited communists left over from the colapse of the Berlin wall. There is an old saying in Europe, "the Green party has red roots" The same people who pine for the good old days of central planning and would happily be part of the apperatchuk who ran Russia into the ground. These same people now inhabit the "save the world" ideology. Now lead by the UN and IPCC they are now out loud pining for massive intervention and taxes in everyone's lives. Screw them. People are on to you.

  18. The political death of Elizabeth May's ego.. err, I mean the Green Party will actually be beneficial to increased environmental concerns among all legitimate federal parties.

    • How so?

      • I like the Greens, but I'm going to answer this. Because if the Green Party were not there, people who feel passionate about these issues would join either the Liberals or NDP, making those parties more robust altogether, and making more of their focus on these issues. Or to put it another way, if one-quarter of the Liberal and NDP environmentalists went over to the Greens, they aren't there in the Liberal or NDP camp now, are they?

        • It would be interesting to see some actual research regarding Green supporters, that answered question such as:
          - whcih party(ies) have you supported prior to supporting the Greens?
          - if you had a preferential ballot, which would your second, third and fourth choice votes be?
          - without the Greens, would you vote at all?
          - excluding the 'environment', is there a particular issue (or two) that draws you to the Greens?
          - are those other issues more or less important to you than environmental causes?
          - and so on.

          I suspect that the answers to those types of questions would draw a picture that is much more diverse than "Green voters are almost essetially former LPC or NDP voters who have almost exclusively left those parties because they feel that the environment is getting extremely short shrift".

          As an example, I will tell you that one of the policies that draws me to the Greens is their plan to legalize, regulate and tax the sale of marijuana. That policy would be, oh, let me guess, about 17 timese more effective than the "Tough On Crime" CPC plan, at about one ninth the cost. It is that kind of thinking that draws me to the Greens. I'm not saying that all of their policies are correct, but some fresh, out-of-the-box thinking couldn't hurt, especially when you stack that up against the thinking of LPC and CPC (both very, very stale), and even the NDP to some extent.

          What say you about that?

          • What say I to that? I agree! I personally don't like marijuana, but legalizing it doesn't mean I have to smoke it. Plus, I get all that lovely tax money! Not to mention the money saved not locking people up because they want to smoke it. Which isn't to say legalizing grow-ops, of course.

            And because you guys are all over there, where there isn't a realistic opportunity to change the laws, and I'm stuck over here without enough like-minded people to push hard enough against the stale thinking, nothing is going to change.

          • Yeah, it's not that I'm particularly fond of marijuana, just that I'm more fond of cost-effective solutions. I'm partial to wine myself, even with all of the societal ills that liquor brings.

            "We", over here, have choices, yes we do. If I was a Green-leaning person in the riding of (for example) Vaugh or Sault St Marie, I'd give serious consideration to using my vote to help decide those extremely close races. But I'm not.

            And, btw, y'all over there have choices as well, don't you know. You could join us progressives over here (there are more than one formerly homeless Red Tories who vote Green)! ;-)

            Yes, it will take time to build a party that could truly compete, but sometimes it really is more effective to start all over, start with the good ideas and just leave the bad ideas, bad traditions, bad tendencies and failed past policies behind, rather than try to convince so many people to change.

          • Ah well. If you're a Green willing not to split the vote where splitting the vote gives us Harper, you're my friend. As would I if I lived in an NDP or Green close riding. But I don't.

            And I hear and respect the view that starting over just takes time. My only concern is we have six days. :)

          • Wrt vote splitting: Hopefully some LPC and/or NDP voters in Saanich Gulf-Islands will reciprocate. ;-)

          • They're already on it. No question about it. http://www.catch22campaign.ca

            And for those who want to vote strategically while ensuring the party of their heart still gets the popular vote numbers, there's http://www.votepair.ca

          • Interesting links. Thanks.

            I am a little disappointed that both of those sites are taking such blatant aim at CPC candidates/ridings. I suppose that is just the reality of this election, but really, the idea of vote swapping could be just as appealing to some conservative voters. Eg, Helena Geurgis' riding could be more in play with some vote swapping here and there.

  19. Eli May should just realize that the majority of voters aren't buying what she is selling.

    • The majority of voters aren't buying what ANY of them are selling.

  20. Pining for horses leads to growing up and buying horses more often than convincing your parents to buy a horse. I bet there is a strong Conservative majority among young girls who wished for and were given horses though!

    This has nothing to do with wishing for a representative electoral system or environmental platforms. Green Party does more by garnering votes that indicate the strength of their platform even if it is only an underestimate due to many people voting elsewhere strategically than it would either as a weak minority group in one of the other parties or a lobby group alone.

    Most voters arent' buying what Harper is selling either, but he gets to ride the wave of having joined a dominant party and using comfortingly familiar but outdated logic that what others in the party did before is what he will do, giving voters an illusion of control.

    Obviously Reform is not an experienced governing party – look at all the parliamentary and campaign attack surprises we've had for the last few years despite their rebrand and takeover/alliance with PC when both their fortunes were low (speaking of the ill that comes of coalition by fringe parties!). A Green party positioned somewhere between old PC, Liberal and NDP with some fresh ideas and an acceptance of the importance of managing our life support system that we now understand better than Harper's target demographic does is a no brainer vote getter for many people if only they didn't have to vote strategically under first past the post for another party that promises little benefit.

  21. Andrew Potter is a troll.

    The logic of this article only holds up if you accept two related preconditions that make up Mr. Potter`s worldview:
    1. Proportional representation is a fantasy that mature, responsible people should give up
    2. Mature, responsible people vote for establishment parties instead of wasting their time on fringe groups

    If these hold true, then indeed, maybe people who`d want to vote for parties other than the Liberals or Conservatives or who`d want proportional representation are deserving of the condescension and derision that are so implicit in this (and other) columns. However, to me this reads as just another column wherein Mr. Andrew Potter whines that he can`t get why people don`t all share his worldview and values.

  22. They will get money one way or other from south of 49. That`s how their kind are doing it.

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