Our not so cozy relationship with the Liberals

There has been a tremendous buzz around the supposed love-affair between Greens and Liberals.  The only hint of truth there is that Elizabeth May, and many others in the Green Party (including myself, by the way) recognize that all opposition parties are politically closer to the Greens than the current government.

The story seems to centre around Elizabeth’s announcement that she will run in Central Nova (currently held by Foreign Minister Peter Mackay) in the next election, which is viewed as some sort of overture to the Liberals.  What it really is is a gesture of courage and conviction from someone who doesn’t want to take the easiest path, but rather the path that feels most right.  Yes, she might have won more easily in a riding with a Liberal or NDP incumbent, but that would not deprive the current toxic government of a seat, and would force her to spend her time attacking the policies of parties more in line with her own.  She chose the harder route not to benefit any particular opposition party, but to focus her campaign on attacking the worst offender.

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote in the United States but lost the election to George W. Bush.  A small number of votes, such as those that Ralph Nader took for the US Green Party, could have delivered a Gore presidency.  Now, Gore may have an energy bill 20 times the national average, but he is still the person who has done more to bring attention to climate change than anyone else alive.  He would not have refused to ratify Kyoto, he would have insisted that it was met.  The US produces about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.  During the Bush presidency, US emissions have risen almost as rapidly as Canada’s.  If the US had taken the lead on Kyoto, and insisted on expanding it, the world today would be in a significantly better position.  They have both the domestic means to make enormous progress unilaterally and the economic clout abroad to make sure that the rest of the world follows.  So according to conventional wisdom, we would have made much more progress on combatting global warming if only the Green Party in the US hadn’t been quite so successful.

I’m not sure I believe this.  But it’s uncomfortably close to the truth.  And the problem is that Ralph Nader made a big point of saying that Bush and Gore were the same.  That’s just not true.  And some of the people who believed him feel justifiably cheated.  So I’m wary of making the same mistake.  I believe that the Green Party has the most robust climate change strategy by far.  I know that the Green Party will not be sidelined by other issues of the day.

Still, let’s imagine that Mr. Dion and Mr. Layton each fail gloriously at reaching the Kyoto target.  We are supposed to go down to 94% of our 1990 levels.  We are now at 139%.  So let’s imagine that these two gentlemen can only get us down to 120%.  We’d have to pay the penalty of accepting even deeper cuts in the next round.  That would be pretty terrible.

But compare that to what Mr. Harper plans.  Even after he discovered environmentalism, he has still refused to accept the Kyoto targets.  When pressed on what he thought he could achieve, he predicted that emissions would be about 50% higher than Kyoto.  That would mean an increase in the rate emissions are rising.  We could not then, realistically, hope to accept the penalties for the next round.  So in 2008, at the first legal opportunity, Mr. Harper would withdraw from Kyoto altogether.  That would be a lot worse than terrible.

So it would be a lie to say that Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are all the same.  They are not.  Elizabeth won’t lie to you, and neither will I.

In the fall of 2005, Elizabeth was wary of the Martin Liberals, who committed to Kyoto but did nothing to implement it.  She was also painfully aware of the fact that Mr. Harper wouldn’t just refuse to implement Kyoto, he would run in the opposite direction, destroying the few programs the Liberals had implemented.  And she was counting on Jack Layton to bring some much-needed sanity to the discourse.

Jack Layton failed.  He pushed for an election at a time when the Liberals were in a tailspin so that he could capitalize on their misfortunes.  He spent the entire election attacking the Liberals and even defending Harper, and didn’t mention climate change or Kyoto once in all the televised debates.  The NDP gained votes and seats, but the country moved rapidly and dramatically away from everything they stand for.  Prime Minister Harper has torn up the Kelowna accord, he’s tossed away the national child-care strategy, he has redefined our role in Afghanistan to a more adversarial one which has resulted in a marked rise in casualties, and he has set us back dramatically on reaching our Kyoto obligations.

Since Mr. Harper has been elected, Jack Layton has been trying to make deals with him.  I have nothing against deals when they result in progress, but it should be clear to Jack Layton that for as long as Mr. Harper is propped up, the country will continue moving relentlessly in a direction opposite from what he and his party stand for.  The Greens have always drawn evenly from all parties as well as disillusioned voters.  I believe that the reason NDP popularity is tanking is that Jack Layton is seen, and more deservedly, as a spoiler like Ralph Nader — someone who for immediate personal gain sold his values and the future of his country.  I believe that if Mr. Layton spent less time trying to work with PM Harper, he might notice a sudden rise in his party’s standings — and for the right reasons.

So does that mean the Greens love the Liberals?  Nope.  Elizabeth wants to work with both the Liberals and NDP, and even the Bloc.  When she became our leader, she expected that the NDP would be easiest to reach.  She was pleasantly surprised when the Liberals chose a man with a dog named Kyoto as their leader, but that didn’t stop her from trying to work with Mr. Layton.  But apparently, Jack Layton prefers to try to work with Mr. Harper.  That leaves the Greens talking to the Liberals by default, not preference.

The Green Party is ideologically wedded to the principle of working in coalitions.  We would love to work with other parties wherever we’re making genuine progress.  I believe that if the opposition parties united in denouncing the current government on a few core principles, all of us would benefit on election day.  But even if we didn’t, it would be the right thing to do.  Because politics should be about an honest exchange of ideas, not about vote grabbing.

5 responses to “Our not so cozy relationship with the Liberals”

  1. Celeste writes:

    The Green Party of Canada is whoring itself out for no good reason and this member is disgusted. The notion of another Liberal government scares the hell out of me. And no, I am not a conservative in any way, shape, or form. Just someone who loves this planet and for a brief period of time, saw a glimmer of hope in the Green Party. No more.

    How DARE she!

  2. Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu writes:

    Hi Celeste,

    I confess I didn’t understand your phrase “how dare she” until I looked at the news and realized that Elizabeth May and Stéphane Dion have agreed not to run candidates in each other’s ridings.

    I can certainly understand why that would upset you. It’s a very divisive issue.

    I’m more afraid of a Harper majority, but I’m not comfortable either with the media portrayal of a cozy relationship with the Liberals, and this obviously doesn’t help.

  3. Charles Battershill writes:

    Elizabeth knows that free markets force people to “freely” look for work after they lose their jobs because capital moves to a place of lower wages. A narrow definition of “efficiency” forces business to lower its costs. A wider definition of “efficiency” factors in the psychological, family, community, societal and environmental costs of this model of so doing business.

    Father Coady’s ideas seek to balance narrow economic efficiency with the broader context of business. “Labour” are not machines: workers have families; they worry about invasive species, drowning polar bears, the destruction of social programs, the destruction of community by invasive giant corporations like WalMart, and how climate change will increasingly harm the livelihoods of nearly everyone on Earth.

    Elizabeth’s actions are based on who she is as a person, and what she correctly sees as the corrosive effects of an American style of government acting in the interests of transnational corporations to make profits without social or environmental responsiblity. People are not “costs of doing business”. Atlantic Canada learned this before NAFTA made Ontarians learn this.

  4. Bruce McCulloch, P.Eng. MBA writes:

    I think Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu has said it very well. Coalition governments are a key element of the Green Party — and so cooperation between M. Dion and Ms. May and their respective parties is very appropriate. This approach is different for us all and it will take some getting used to. I think there may be some concern about the watering down of green principles, but I went to New Glasgow to listen to Ms. May’s nomination acceptance speech, and I saw no watering of principles — I saw true vision of what needs to be done.

    When the media uses words like “cozy” in their headlines, it distorts conversation and communication (essential ingredients in any democracy) into something that it is not.

  5. Celeste writes:

    The Greens do not have even one seat in parliament. This is not the same thing as a coalition government.

    Elizabeth May cannot be trusted, in my opinion, to lead AND BUILD the Green Party. During the last federal election, before she assumed the reins at the GPC, she publicly advocated “strategic” voting (don’t vote Green if it hurts the Liberals — never mind that strategic voting could drive a stake through the heart of the party). Lately, however, she’s been saying she is against strategic voting. Uh huh. She says she doesn’t advocate it while shilling for the Liberals at every opportunity, which is sending the message to Greens to vote Liberal. She denied there were any backroom deals when she announced her candidacy in Central Nova. She said she doesn’t believe in them. Then she comes up with this cockamamie backroom deal.

    This is all about Liz and the Liberals, and not what is good for the party and continuing to build it as a force to be reckoned with and a voice for the Earth that will be heard long after she has fled the scene.

    If May really wanted to get a seat in Parliament for the Green Party she would have brokered a deal for the Liberals to not run in one of the electoral districts where the Greens performed well in the last election.

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