Hon. Elizabeth May, Leader of Green Party of Canada, and Member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands

By Tegi Obanda

Following the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, in which Nations for the first time agreed to implement programs towards keeping temperature increases below 2 degees Celsius, you would expect that the locally-driven implementation processes would have been initiated with the same fanfare that the agreement was greeted in December 2015.

A snapshot overview of activities within nations—both developed and developing-reveal a dire picture. One full year later, nothing, if any, has been initiated—just goalposts. This inaction has been brought forth by four factors:

1. LACK OF CONSENSUS -OR ATTEMPT AT CONSENSUS- WITHIN THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT, ON WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE, AND HOW IT IS TO BE DONE

National, sub-national and local environmental movements are fragmented and rely on ad hoc activists, who rarely agree on strategy or its implementation. Each actor acts in his/her own way, towards his/her own goals at his/her own pace, and answerable to no one but himself or herself. There are are some rudimentary attempts at creating a universally agreed upon definition of green economy. But there is no known attempt to create a unifying theory to guide action towards green transformation.

2. GREEN PARTIES CONTROL POWER IN NO COUNTRY (EXCEPT PARTIALLY IN GERMANY).

Without controlling policy making at national, sub-national and local levels, it would be wishful thinking to expect that non-Green ruling parties would abandon their corporate agenda to initiate the transition to the green economy.

3. GREEN PARTIES HAVE NO PLANS TO TAKE POWER ANYWHERE. THEY ALSO HAVE NO PLANS TO TRANSFORM THE SOCIETIES, EVEN IF THEY AQUIRE SUCH POWER.

4. ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST ORGANIZATIONS CANNOT, BY THEMSELVES, CHANGE POLICY WITHOUT POLITICAL POWER

Most environmental activist organizations seem to have adopted the apolitical stance, and are stuck in the matching/protesting-against-corporations treadmill. The problem with this approach is that the corporations are not acting in a vacuum. The corporations are able to continue destroying the environment with impunity because of government policy. So it would make more sense to spend energy and resources to take control of government policy, with express goal of overhauling the destructive economic system.

The aim of this article is not to trigger another round of unending theoretical debate, but to stimulate productive discussion that can help those who want to collaborate towards a unifying green agenda find a focal point of action. The stakes are too high for us to waste time debating for debating’s sake.

Question 1: Is There a Leadership Crisis in the Environmental Movement?

There are three arenas where environmentalists can act to or help.

  1. Political arena –take control of budgeting in order to fund green transformation programs.
  2. Economic arena—innovation and entrepreneurship – institute a new system of sustainable economic action funded by action in the political arena.
  3. Eco-Action arena –protect whatever remains of the environment or revitalize what has been destroyed through actions in the political and economic arena.

Success in the eco action arena needs environmental friendly public policy. With non-green parties in power, green transformation cannot be funded because those in power are either anti-environment or do not care one way or another. Eco action must move beyond protest, and aim at winning power immediately–otherwise it eventually becomes part of the problem.

CASE STUDIES

Green Party of Canada: Profile in Electoral Failure

Green Party of Canada leader, Elizabeth May, deserves praise for spearheading a historic electoral breakthrough for the Greens in Canada. She was elected to the Canadian House of Commons in May 2011. This was considered a major milestone in the environmental movement, and was celebrated by Greens all over the world.

However, May has remained the sole Green MP, unable to replicate her success in one extra constituency ever since.

Given that the environment is a major problem in the world right now, the question on every concerned environmentalist’s lip is, why has the Green Parties failed to elect representatives to the various legislative bodies across the globe?

Elizabeth May has many ready excuses when asked why Canada’s Greens are not winning elections.

Excuse #1. Blame the First-past-the-post voting system:

It’s very hard for Green parties around the world to make a breakthrough in countries that have first-past-the-post voting,” May told Cory Collins (Ricochet Media) in an exclusive interview last August1.

The first question that comes to my mind is, why is the “First-past-the-post” voting system harder for Green Parties than other parties? What is so unique about Green Parties to make them unelectable in the First-past-the-post voting system? Where is the evidence that if the First-past-the-post voting system is removed, then the Green Party will triumph?

In as much as it is a very good thing for democracy, facts show that the Green Party of Canada would have no more than 10 MPs even if the proportionality is introduced2.

You can’t form a government in Canada with 10 MPs

New Zealand and Germany

What is the record of green parties in the two major countries with proportional representation system?

In the 2014 general elections, New Zealand’s Green Party’s vote share was 10.70%, earning them 14 seats in the House of Representatives.

You can’t form a government in New Zealand with 14 MPs

In Germany, the Greens came fourth in the 2013 federal elections, with 8.4% of the votes and 63 out of 630 seats in the Bundestag3. To date the World’s most successful Green Party has 26 members out of 1,855 in State Parliaments, 11 out of 96 members in the European Parliament, and 1 out of 16 Prime Ministers of States.

New Zealand is certainly doing better than Canada and USA. Germany is doing even better. However, the proportion of the vote that goes to Greens is still miserably low (10% or lower in both countries), even with proportional representation.

I want to hazard that German Greens are doing better not because of proportional representation, but because of better organizing, better visioning and better messaging. Those are the cornerstones of electoral success, not the election type.

In other words, if a political party is good at what it is doing, it will succeed under any circumstances.

It is the City, Stupid: The Perils of ignoring the Municipalities

It is shocking that the Green Party of Canada has totally ignored cities in their electoral focus. I want to hypothesize that the Canadian Green Party has failed federally and regionally because it has no roots at the city level.

As a result, the party is rootless, and has contented itself with making pointless noises at the periphery of politics in Canada. Ironically, the Green Party based its 2015 election platform on infrastructure at the city, yet they have totally ignored taking control of city politics (see section on party platform below).

The importance of cities as the epicenters of action is not just a political issue, it is an environmental issue. One can say that If the city goes, there goes the environment. It is no longer debatable that cities are the arena where the transition to the green economy will and must take place.

Whether we win or lose,..on goal of 1.5C – that battle will be waged at the city level,” said Milag San Jose-Ballesteros, director for Southeast Asia and Oceania with C40, a network of over 80 cities representing some 600 million people4.

That mobilisation does not mean national governments don’t count…but mayors will continue to do what they think will create a livable and sustainable city,” San Jose-Ballesteros told Reuters5

Unlike the Canadian Green Party, which does not care about seeking power in municipalities, the New Zealand Green Party fields candidates in local government elections throughout New Zealand. In 2013 local elections, it won three city council and three regional council seats. To date, NZ has a total of six councillors.

In Canada’s largest city, Toronto, a record 65 people contested the Mayoral election of 2014. The Green Party fielded a total of zero candidates either for the Mayoral or Council seats. In Calgary or Edmonton –the largest cities in Alberta, there is no record of any Green Party candidacy in the municipal elections of 2013.

The only city worth mentioning in Canada is Vancouver, where four Green candidates won seats in the 2014 Vancouver City Council election6. It is instructive that Vancouver city has its own Green Party-the Green Party of Vancouver 7, acting separately from the Green Party of British Columbia.

Excuse #2 Strategic Voting.

May has also blamed strategic voting for Canada’s Green’s dismal electoral performance.

We were very confident that we would have between four and five, and a possibility of as many as 15, MPs in ridings across Canada where we had extremely strong candidates, with really well-run campaigns with proper financing — though not, obviously, the same kind of money that other parties have,“ May told Ricochet Media8.

Imagine a party that is content with four or five MPs in a House of 338. Why such a low bar? Why not 100 or 200? What is the use of five or six MPs?

Elizabeth May forgets that the issue is not a matter of having “strong candidates”. The issue is about having a strong vision, strong message and strong organization. Those are the cornerstones of electoral success, not just the strength of individual candidates.

It is understandable that the Green Party has previously encouraged strategic voting among its members in the aim of galvanizing a unified opposition vote against the then Conservative Government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

However, how many times have a Green Party candidate knocked on my door to convince me not to vote for the Green Party? Many times. Nothing excites me more than seeing a Green Candidate. This excitement lasts exactly one minute until the candidate opens his or her mouth: “We are asking our members to vote for the NDP candidate in this riding”. We end up arguing, with the candidate insisting :“no, no, don’t vote for me, vote NDP”, and I am insisting, “No, no, I will vote for you. You have a duty to push the Green agenda.”

In the end I don’t even bother going to the polls.

This is how Elizabeth May explains away this problem”

On the eve of the election, and this tends to happen with [first-past-the-post] voting, people vote strategically and they panic. And according to national pollsters looking at the data, we lost half of our vote in the last week of the campaign. So that’s always very disappointing.9

What May doesn’t know is that you can’t treat your voters this way. Yes, as a progressive party, the Green Party is correct to adopt the strategic voting tactic. But it has to be done in a more holistic party-boosting, and transparent fashion—with clear give and take pacts with collaborating parties.

This can be done by Green Party agreeing with, for example, the NDP, or even the Liberals, on which constituencies the Greens would support the other party, and which ones the other party would support the Green Party in return.

This way, the Greens can, agree to boost the NDP or Liberal candidates in 100 constituencies for example, while NDP does the same for the Greens. This would have to be preceded with a well crafted pre-election agreement. If they don’t agree to vote for your candidates where you are strong, don’t vote for their candidates even in places where you are weak. period.

Don’t ever tell your members to throw away their votes.

In the end, both parties increase their chances of winning more seats in the Assembly and even forming the government in a coalition.

The aim of the Green Party in elections should be to form or be part of the Government.

LEADERSHIP CABAILITIES

To give insight into the leadership capability failures of the Green Parties, we critically analyze some the key features of the Green Party leadership: vision, communication, and commitment to green transformation.

Vision: Setting the Green Agenda

One of the weaknesses of Green Parties everywhere is lack of Vision. They do not articulate a compelling mission to move their countries to more sustainable statuses. Instead, the agenda is a hodgepodge of all sorts of promises which do little to distinguish the Green Party from other of parties. In fact, the Green Party seems not to have a clear raison d’tre (reason for existence). If they had, Green Parties would be governing today.

Communication/Alignment: Talking theTalk

Green Parties have failed to align their sustainability vision with the shared vision of members/environmentalists/general public. In fact the alignment effort is moot when one considers that the vision is ill-developed in the first place. As they say in computer science and mathematics, garbage in, garbage out (GIGO)- “the quality of output is determined by the quality of the input.. if a mathematical equation is improperly stated, the answer is unlikely to be correct.10

Dissecting the 2015 Green Party Election Platform -Canada

Like most Green Party election platforms, the Green Party of Canada’s 2015 election Manifesto is quite a read. As always, I instinctively first search for the section titled” Sustainable Development” because-to me- that is the engine of any transformation if any. I give thumbs up to the slogan- “Because Tomorrow is Serious Business”.

The platform declares the lead economic priority to be the establishment of something called “Canadian Sustainable Generations Fund”. Although it is not clear how much the fund will be and what the objectives of the fund are, we can deduce that it is a fund to invest in skills-training, education, energy efficiency, renewables, and emerging technologies.11

What sort of skills training, and where? Are the skills training different from education? Is it the usual formal education from kindergarten to college? How will this fund be deployed –to who? Under what terms and conditions? Who and how would one qualify to benefit from this mouth-watering “Canadian Sustainable Generations Fund”?

Instead of telling the reader (the voter) how the fund will improve his/her life, the writers jumps straight into how the party plans to capitalize the fund.

We will capitalize this fund by expanding revenue through returning corporate tax rates on large corporations to the 2009 level (19 percent), eliminating tax havens and tax credits used by the extremely wealthy, taxing pollution and waste, increasing the efficiency of our tax system, and working with provinces to increase resource extraction royalties12.”

All sounds good, except, how can one “eliminate tax havens”? Would a Green Party government, for example nuke and sink the Cayman Island? I am asking this assuming that they are talking about the same tax haven we are all familiar with –a noun referring to “a country that offers foreign individuals and businesses a minimal tax liability in a politically and economically stable environment, with little or no financial information shared with foreign tax authorities (Investopedia)

How much is the fund? $5? 50? 500? 5000? 5 million? 5 billion? How much? Since it is not stated –achieving the promise would be easy, as it was for Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …’- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.

The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
13

The Green Party then makes a second major proposal: “Roll out a National Sustainable Jobs Plan.” This is as exciting as it sounds. But, wait a minute: Is it the “Canadian Sustainable Generations Fund” which will fund the “National Sustainable Jobs Plan”?

 

$6.4 billion per year, one point of the GST, to municipal infrastructure – providing stable, long-term funding to Canadian municipalities, creating good local jobs, and building vibrant, safe, and livable Canadian towns and cities14.”says point number 2.

Now we have some figures to work with, or do we?

The plan continues: “We will unleash an army of carpenters, electricians and contractors to take outdated and leaky public buildings – schools, universities and hospitals – and plug the leaks that increase greenhouse gases and costs. These changes alone will reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent nationwide.”

In a nutshell, the National Sustainable Jobs Plan is an infrastructure plan? Is it to be funded through “taxing corporations, eliminating tax havens and carbon tax” on the one hand, or is it to be funded by “taking one point of the GST, to municipal infrastructure”? In other words, is the Canadian Sustainable Generations Fund the same as the “$6.4 billion per year, “one point of the GST”, or they are separate things?

The Green Platform, continues to list more promises (Free Tuition, Partnering with First Nation, $1 billion Green Technology Fund, and Supporting Local Food Producers). However, the muddle in the first big two points makes it not worth anyone’s time continuing to read.

I hope this demonstrates why the Green Party fails to convince more people. “First Past the Gate” voting system is just an excuse. There is no clear vision or alignment of shared vision.

There can be no alignment if content being communicated is imprecise, amateurish, poorly thought out, and doesn’t make sense.

Remember, Garbage in Garbage Out as mentioned above.

3.Commitment to Green Transformation: Walking the Walk

While Communication/Alignment is about talking the talk, the third issue in leadership is Walking the Walk. This basically boils down to the philosophical beliefs and ideological clarity of the leaders. The vision may be titillating and the communication spell binding, but if the leaders are not ideologically clear, the the entire Green Transformation enterprise will flop on its belly.

Remember I have not said electoral enterprise, but green transformation enterprise. For as long as the electoral enterprise deviates from the historical mission of the Green Party—the raison detre of the Green Party- the messaging will immediately deviate from the core agenda.

A look at the Green party agenda referred to above shows that the transition to green economy is not on the menu. Such a transformation cannot be achieved with such disjointed visionless plans.

 

Time is of Essence, Yet Elizabeth Dithers

In 2016, World temperatures hit a record high for the third year in a row in 2016, “at around 1.1C higher than before the Industrial Revolution ushered in wide use of fossil fuels”15.” For environmentalists, this means a state of emergency, right?

Green leaders everywhere would be rushing to the gates, pushing everyone, urging speed and action and change NOW!, right? How do you think Elizabeth May spent the latter part of her summer holidays in 2016? Answer: she was throwing temper tantrums holed up in Cape Breton, threatening to resign.

Apparently, the leader was annoyed that party members had voted to support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. You can read the whole drama in the article, ““Brokenhearted” Elizabeth May floats resignation as Green Party leader”16

What is troubling in May’s 2016 meltdown is that she was fuming about a resolution which had been democratically voted on by members on the floor of the party convention. Democracy is surely a core value of the Green Party of Canada, and in democratic parties, members—not a single leader- shape policy.

Although May eventually decided not to resign as leader, the BDS vote disturbed her so much that she fired her shadow cabinet members for their stand. The three —International Affairs critic, Lisa Barrett (BC), Justice critic, Dimitri Lascaris (Ontario) and Technology critic, Collin Griffiths(Quebec) were fired for being in the group of the 24 signatories on the statement titled: “Why We Greens Still Push for Anti-Occupation Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions17”.

The problem with Elizabeth May is that her ideology is no longer clear. It seems that she has slowly moved to the ineffectual “Centre”—a position traversed by wishy washy status quo parties such as Liberal and NDP. To be successful, the Green Party must, by definition, occupy the entire left spectrum of politics- fully, urgently, and unapologetically.

To be successful, Canadian Greens must reject, in totality, people like BC Green Party leader, Andrew Weaver, who can, with a straight face, say that his version of Green Party is “centrist” in ideology.

Alex Tyrrell, of Quebec Green Party, who was one of the signatories, seems to have taken the right stance by stating that “”the Green Party of Quebec has chosen to become a socialist, feminist and multicultural party that does not back down from difficult or polarizing issues.”

The time has come for Green Parties to decide what their role is, and how they want to operate going forward. Those who believe in green transformation should read the riot act to the Green Parties: fight the green fight now, or get out of the way.

To be Continued in PART II –“Debacles of the Green Party of USA -From Ralph Nader to Jill Stein”.

References

1

Cory Collins, August 26, 2016 “Elizabeth May on why she’s staying as Green leader,” https://ricochet.media/en/1347/exclusive-interview-elizabeth-may-on-why-shes-staying-as-green-leader

2 Monika Warzecha, October 20, 2015 , “What the federal election would have looked like with proportional representation,”

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/what-the-federal-election-would-have-looked-like-with-proportional-representation

3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundestag

4 Thin Lei Win, Feb. 10, 2017, “Climate change fight will be won or lost in cities, experts say”, Chiang Rai, Thailand — Reuters, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/science/climate-change-fight-will-be-won-or-lost-in-cities-experts-say/article33980388/

5Thin Lei Win, Feb. 10, 2017, “Climate change fight will be won or lost in cities, experts say”, Chiang Rai, Thailand — Reuters, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/science/climate-change-fight-will-be-won-or-lost-in-cities-experts-say/article33980388/

6Mike Clarke, Nov 16, 2014, Vancouver voters elect largest Green caucus in Canadian history,

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-voters-elect-largest-green-caucus-in-canadian-history-1.2837154

7http://www.vangreens.ca

8 Cory Collins, August 26, 2016 “Elizabeth May on why she’s staying as Green leader,” https://ricochet.media/en/1347/exclusive-interview-elizabeth-may-on-why-shes-staying-as-green-leader

9 Cory Collins, August 26, 2016 “Elizabeth May on why she’s staying as Green leader,” https://ricochet.media/en/1347/exclusive-interview-elizabeth-may-on-why-shes-staying-as-green-leader

10Margaret Rouse , http://searchsoftwarequality.techtarget.com/definition/garbage-in-garbage-out

11Green Party of Canada Election Platform 2015, https://www.greenparty.ca/en/platform/sustainable-economy#platform-content

12 Green Party of Canada Election Platform 2015, https://www.greenparty.ca/en/platform/sustainable-economy

13 Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland, http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2933712

14Green Party of Canada Election Platform 2015, https://www.greenparty.ca/en/platform/sustainable-economy

15http://www.reuters.com/article/us-climatechange-temperatures-idUSKBN15227X

16Elizabeth McSheffrey , August 12th 2016 “Brokenhearted” Elizabeth May floats resignation as Green Party leader

http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/08/12/news/broken-hearted-elizabeth-may-floats-resignation-green-party-leader

17  24 Green Party of Canada Signatories 13 Sep 2016, The Tyee.ca https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2016/09/13/Canada-Green-Party-Anti-Occupation.

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