Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Green Around The Gills...

Nation, I've made no bones about the fact that I am a dyed-in-the-wool, small-g "green". I'm a believer that sustainability is no longer an option in our public policy, but rather is an urgent necessity. After all...
"We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children".

Why, then, has a political creature like The Enlightened Savage, long a "true believer" in the most central of Green Party tenets, never voted for a Green Party candidate, at any level, in his life? For this answer, we have to look at the Greens themselves...

The Green Party as we know it in Canada bases its policies on the "Six Principles" agreed to in the "Global Greens Charter" of 2001. These principles are: Ecological Wisdom; Social Justice; Participatory Democracy; Nonviolence; Sustainability; Respect for Diversity.

The Green movement was born in the early 1980's, and candidates first officially ran for the Greens here in 1983. Currently led by Elizabeth May, the party has polled as high as the mid-teens at times, federally. The Alberta wing of the party, led by George Read, recently received around 4.6% of the votes cast in Alberta's 2008 General Election.

Greens have been elected all over Europe, in Australia, and in New Zealand - but never in Canada, on either a federal or provincial level. Why? Is it that Canadians don't care about the environment? Are we bad people?

Far from it... the problem lies not with the voters, but rather with the Green Party of Canada itself.

There are 2 types of people who get active and want to get their face on-camera come election time: Politicians, and Activists. Now, while the end goal of these two types of people are in fact pretty similar (namely - changing policy), the means by which they hope to achieve them are in fact quite different.

A Politician will run for a nomination, build a platform that s/he feels the voters will support which addresses society's needs, and make speeches to win support. They'll put themselves out there for public criticism, take punches, throw punches, and (in most cases) do whatever it takes to make sure they get elected, so they can go forward with their policies and bring forward the changes they feel are in the best interests of society.

An Activist, on the other hand, will identify a need that society has, and then print leaflets, start a webpage, and make speeches. They'll call radio call-in shows, start a blog, and go on the offensive against the "Powers That Be" which they feel are causing the need. If attacked or rebutted, they'll scream about repression and the unfairness of it all - after all, they're not politicians, and should be above reproach. It's the ISSUE that matters. They'll push elected officials for their issue to be resolved, and will keep pushing until it is.

Here's the problem... a Politician who behaves like an Activist won't be taken seriously, and an Activist who tries to run for office as a Politician won't be elected.

Voters are many things... however, contrary to the beliefs of the leader of the Alberta Liberals, "stupid" isn't one of those things. The voters of Alberta, and of Canada (including THIS voter), routinely say they respect and sympathize with the Green cause, but then go and vote for someone else. WHY?

Quite simply, it's because we don't see the Greens as a political party. We see them as a group of Activists. And it's their own fault.

If the Greens were broadcasting, far and wide to everyone who would listen, a solid and comprehensive platform dealing with many of the day-to-day issues that vex Canadians, we'd listen. If they made an announcement immediately after every government announcement, critiquing (or lauding) the government's action, and (where appropriate) presenting their own policies as alternatives, we'd take an interest. If they presented us with a slate, full or not, of eminently qualified and electable candidates, we'd consider voting for them.

But they do NONE of these things. They're seen, rightly or wrongly, as a single-issue party - an image, by the way, that they do nothing to combat. They're deathly silent on all issues except the environment. And they'll run almost ANYONE who wants to be a candidate, provided they're in Liz May's "good books" (otherwise, she'll personally show up to make sure they don't win the nomination - allegedly). The party runs a full slate at election time - but that slate is mostly full of students, retirees, and dyed-in-the-wool hippie activists. And the party is asking us as Canadians to elect this motley crew as Members of Parliament, representing us to the world. When former leader Jim Harris put the Politicians in charge of the party's political machinery, trying to get an electoral break-through, he faced a revolt from the Activist-heavy left wing of the party.

Even Ms. May herself contributes to this perception of the Greens as a group of Activists pretending to be a party of Politicians, by running not on Vancouver Island, or in the mainland riding of West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country (which includes the town of Whistler, which elected a Green as Mayor) or in the riding of Wild Rose (the retiring Myron Thompson's riding, which includes Banff) - all places where she could likely win a seat, and actually make a difference for the country and for her party, but instead in Central Nova - where she'll more than likely get destroyed by Peter "I wish The Enlightened Savage remembered how to spell my last name" MacKay.

She's not running to get herself elected, she's running to get attention for her cause, knowing she's going to lose. That's not a Politician's thinking, it's an Activist's. A Politician will tell you the important thing isn't to "fight the good fight", it's to WIN. A speech made about your issue in the House of Commons is a victory. A speech made on CPAC when they profile your riding for a half hour on a slow Tuesday afternoon,
mid-campaign? That's just filler.

The mind-blowing thing about this whole situation is that not only are the Greens AWARE of the public's perception of them as unelectable, they're apparently PROUD of it - they're allegedly purging the party of Politicians, instead opting for "true believers" (Activists). They're quite literally killing their hopes of EVER getting someone elected, because the very people who can help make that happen - strategic thinkers and unsavoury "Politician" types - are being kicked out of the party. So they'll continue to be denied a podium at the Leaders' Debate, because they're perpetually unable to elect any MP's. Which will further prod the Activists to cry about the grand conspiracy, which will further alienate voters disinclined to vote for whiners or conspiracy theorists... it's a vicious circle, and one of the party's own making. At this point, there's very little difference in public perception between the Green Party of Canada - a political party that hopes, one would think, to be elected to govern - and Greenpeace, an activist organization hoping to influence governments, but with no interest whatsoever of being elected to anything.

At this point, both organizations have the same chance of being elected to govern Canada.


Other Green Parties, in other countries, have seen the necessity of involving the Politicians. Further, they're not just "involved", but they often run the party. A successful and electable Green political party needs a brain (the Politicians), and it needs a heart (the Activists). The Green Party of Canada is, at this time, the Scarecrow - it has a heart, but is desperately in need of a brain. And they're purging all the brains from their midst - great move.

At the end of the day, when Canadians are casting a ballot, they need to feel confident that they're contributing to the solution for what ails us. They need to feel confident that the party for which they're voting (or for which they THINK they're voting - a topic we've discussed here before) can take power, run the day-to-day operations of government, and fix the problems that exist. We don't think we're electing an opposition MP, we think we're electing a government MP.

Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, thinks that the Greens are ready to govern this country. That's why we all like what they stand for, but can't in good conscience mark our "x" for them. "God, what if MY vote is the one that makes Liz May the Prime Minister? [shudder]" It's why they'll never be a successful political party in their current form.

And they have nobody to blame but themselves.

(For more on the Green Party, check out Lex Luthor at No Longer a Green in Alberta. He's a former party big-wig, and knows what's going on in Green-land much better than I.)


Bifrost Group said...

OUCH. Brilliant analysis.

I am the candidate who received the personal attention from EM last month (and former GPC federal councillor.)

You have nailed it. "Purge" isn't really fair, since people are leaving voluntarily. But they are leaving because the battle between politicians and activists was lost at the last leadership vote.

Lex Luthor said...

Great commentary!

Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

This is the biggest stretch ever. I am by no means a staunch Green voter or even a PR supporter, but this post is so shallow on so many levels, I have to respond.

Most people don't vote for parties that won't win, even if they're a supporter or sympathetic, they hate wasting their votes. That's why voter turnout is positively correlated with the (perceived) competitiveness of an election. This is referred to as the psychological incentive produced by electoral systems that have a district magnitude of one.

The Greens haven't been elected in Canada because we have an first past the post system. The only greens elected in Australia were to the senate through PR. In the UK, Greens have been elected to the EU Parliament (which uses PR), but have never been elected to Westminster (FPTP). As a further example of the impact of the the electoral system, Greens were never elected in New Zealand until they changed their electoral system to MMP. Pick up a comparative book on Green parties (there is a lot of them), they will all draw this pattern.

Your treatment of 'activists' as all painted by the same brush is a shameful discredit the hard work of many people like the late Martha Kostuch, Bob Hunter, and yes, even Elizabeth May. Without their efforts the quality of Canada's environment would be a whole lot worse. These people and thousands of other 'activists' like them dedicate their life's work to protecting Canada's environment and often as volunteers who don't have the security and perks of a politician's salary to back them up. Since you are such a self-professed 'green', I am pretty shocked that you would so carelessly denigrate the environmental activism of these devoted and hardworking people.

Enlightened Savage said...

ch: It's not my intent to disregard the great work that activists do... without activists, my mother would not legally be a person. Without activists, my work week would likely be 80 hours long, for pennies on the dollar. And without activists, environmental issues would hardly ever be brought up.

That said, though, activism and politics rarely mesh well in the same person. A sucessful activist is the activist who finds a politician willing to champion their cause, or who so inflames the public that the politicians have little choice but to come around.

The work that many of these activists do is fantastic, and I wouldn't dream of disregarding it. But the fact that they passionately care about the environment doesn't mean they should be elected to run the country. I passionately care about music... but even I know that just because you're a great guitar player doesn't mean that you can conduct a symphony. They're 2 entirely different skills, and "caring" won't bridge that gap.

I like the Greens as people, and I think their "pillars" are fantastic. Their house, as constructed on those pillars, is rotten and badly in need of serious renovation or outright replacement... and until the occupants see this reality and do something to address it, I don't think I or my vote will be coming over for tea.

Thanks for your comment.

- E.S.