Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Elizabeth May is in, yippee!

I just heard on the news that Elizabeth May is now in the leadership debates on TV, Oct 1-2. That's the one piece of good news I've heard today. What with polls now forecasting a Conservative majority here in October, and a McCain win in the USA in November, I was starting to wonder if anything was working.

I heard Elizabeth attribute the about face on her participation in the leadership debates to the power of public opinion and she's probably right.

Might add the power of the internet to that too.


Anonymous said...

Yes, blogs are little 1st Amendment machines, doncha know?! Freedom of speech!!!

Heaven forbid a McCain win. More of the same is more than we or the world can endure. Can voters be that obtuse? Can anyone fail to register to vote and to GO VOTE? The world is at stake. The greedy and rich must be voted down.

Cheers for Elizabeth May - a step in the right direction!!!!!!!!!

Geoff Trowbridge said...

Hey Ann, this is Geoff Trowbridge here- a comment I think it'd be interesting to mull over. I know it could be a bit controversial, but I think it could start some good conversations nonetheless.

I've been taking a look at the dynamics of the upcoming Canadian election, particularly at the platform Stephane Dion and the Liberals are offering. Now I am not a Canadian and haven't been following this whole thing from beginning to end, but from what I can see, this 'Green Shift' thing that Dion is putting front and center in his campaign is both extremely correct, and revolutionary in the best sense. The idea of shifting markets away from taxing good things (income, equity, etc.) and taxing bad things that everybody essentially doesn't like (pollution, environmental destruction, etc.) has been proposed by the best environmental thinkers and a number of smart economists for DECADES now. And yet I've never seen a national government actually attempt to make that radical change in how economics work, even in recent years with the hubbub around Climate Change.

In my eyes, it is obvious that Dion, and the Liberal party, really believes in this Green Shift and is expending all the political capital they have to promote it because they know its the right thing to do. I think if they got into office, they would really try to implement it, and even if it wasn't entirely successful, the very attempt would inspire governments around the world to try the same.
Changing Economics around Ecology is an idea that groups like the Green Party have been both demanding for years, and bemoaning why nobody ever tries it.

Well, here you have one of the two leading political parties of one of the wealthiest, biggest economic Democratic powers in the world proposing just that. And they're not backing off it when it becomes politically unpopular, like a lot of politicians do.

I was taking a look at some polling numbers for the 10-14 election on its Wikipedia page, and saw that the Liberals are a solid ten points behind Harper and the Conservatives. But then I saw the Green Party polling at 11%, which seemed remarkably high.
And with that I realized what Elizabeth May needs to do, if she really wants to see some of her life's work pay off: Ask all the voters in that 11% to vote Liberal, just for this one election only. I know that's political heresy, and I've dealt with the Green Party enough, at least in the States, to know that they tend to be extremely prickly when anybody suggests that anybody except themselves can be politically bold and brave with environmental issues.

But this time, that's the best decision Elizabeth May could make. I don't know if all of the greenies would follow her request, but the numbers patently add up: If the Liberals are at 26%, and the Conservatives at 36%, all the Greens throwing their weight behind the Liberals would mean 37% for them, and an election victory. BUT THAT'LL ONLY HAPPEN IF ALL THE GREENS VOTE LIBERAL.

Now, I understand very much the suspicion the Green Party has around mainstream politics, especially on environmental matters. But in the end, in Canada as well as in the U.S., they'd be idiots to think they'll actually win a federal election. They won't. If there wasn't a Green Party, almost all of those voters would vote Liberal or NDP. And from everything I've seen, read, and heard, Stephane Dion is simply the 'Greenest' North American politician to stand for federal office since Al Gore in 2000. The difference is that Gore was all too quiet about his ecological credentials then, whereas Dion is unapologetically up-front about how crucial the environment is, EVEN AT THE STAKE OF THE ECONOMY. He has a dog named Kyoto, for god's sakes! There probably won't be a viable national leader candidate like this for a long time, and the Greens would be pretty foolish in my eyes if they let Prime Minister "Imperial Oil" Harper and perhaps President "Drill Here, Drill Now" McCain and his "Let's put in pipelines everywhere!" Vice President Sarah Palin rule the continent, bringing us ever closer to the brink, simply because of their own egos and lack of ability to see that politics is complicated, and that the perfect really can be the enemy of the good.

So. That's my proposal. I'd be interested, Ann, what you as a Canadian voter and a long time green-minded person, think of it. I'm not saying Elizabeth May should get out of the race, or the deabtes. I really think she'll provide a crucial voice to the discussion, and she can act as a kind of 'good conscience' to Dion, constantly pushing him and challenging him to be even bolder, braver in his plans.

Zabetha said...

Hi Geoff,

It does pose a dilemma when you have two major parties and several minor parties---all considered viable contenders---to choose from. The added dimension of difficulty is, do you vote for the best candidate for your riding, or for the party/prime minister?

It's true that Dion is much more likely to be the next prime minister than Elizabeth May; the Greens will be extremely lucky if May even gets into Parliament at all (she's running against Peter McKay, the current Conservative Defense Minister, and a big player in the Conservative Party). And if one wanted to vote strategically, it would be better to vote for Liberal than Green, considering that their positions on climate change are so similar. And we haven't even mentioned the New Democratic Party (NDP), who also have a very "green" perspective on things. As for the Bloc Quebecois (BQ), well, you only get to vote for them if you live in Quebec and their main platform is supposedly the dissolution of the country, although to hear them talk they seem to be all about socialism.

Here's my take on voting strategically: a whole lot of Reform Party and Conservative Party supporters refused to vote strategically, they voted where their hearts were and guess what, now we have Stephen Harper (former Reform now Conservative) as Prime Minister. It took a while, and neither the Reform nor the Conservatives made the government during that time, but they did it and they did it by not voting strategically. For a long time the political right was divided and when they finally got together as one party, well, the result was Harper.

In the past couple of elections NDP-ers and Green Party supporters have been urged to vote strategically for the Liberal candidate to keep the Conservatives out, and in some ridings that seems to have been the case, but to no good end. So as for me, I will vote with my heart, I will not vote strategically. I think Dion is right, but so is May. The Greens are the party of the youth, they are young, disorganized, enthusiastic, inexperienced, and they really need to get a foot in the door of the House. No, May will not be our next Prime Minister, and probably Dion won't be either. If it takes another round of Harper to get the Greens off the ground, then that's what has to be done.

Our system is different from yours in that we are not just voting for our Prime Minister, we are voting for our entire House of Commons. We need the Green Party to be there. I don't know which ridings the Greens have the most chance in, no doubt it won't be my riding so some could say I am just throwing my vote away. The only reason the Greens are considered a contender at all is because the overall total of votes they got in the last election was over 4%, the level at which a political party qualifies for federal funding. It was the first step. The next is to get Elizabeth into the House. There will be no Liberal candidate running against her, just as there will be no Green candidate running against Dion. There already is a level of cooperation between May and Dion, and as necessary there will be cooperation between May and any other politician who is working toward the same policy goals. But she needs to be in the House.

As for Dion, he is a bit of an enigma. You are right about him, but he has not taken advantage of any of the opportunities offered to him to bring down this Conservative government. He is playing politics just like everyone else. The Liberals have some political baggage here that they may not be able to overcome, and unfortunately Dion has some personal baggage that he seems not to be able to overcome either. I really feel I am taking more of a risk voting Liberal than I am voting Green. If the Greens were not there I'd be voting NDP. My own wish is that the NDP and the Greens get together, and I am afraid that is only going to happen when the NDP takes a beating in an election due to the strength of the Greens.

Geoff Trowbridge said...

Allright, Anne, I think I see what you're saying. I sort of quasi-forgot the differences in the Canadian political system, and how people can get elected MP in a federal election even if their party loses. I know Australia and New Zealand have systems somewhat similar to this, except seemingly even more focused on getting representation from multiple parties, so that any party that gets above a certain percentage of the vote gets some representation in their Parliament. And I'd totally agree with you that having somebody like Elizabeth May in the House in Canada could be a really strong voice for environmental issues, especially if she joined up with the greener members of the NDP and Liberals to put forth some major Climate Change legislation.

I'm interested, actually, since you seem to know the Canadian Green Party a bit- what are they like, generally? Do they seem effective? Do they run a lot for small offices like Mayors, city council, and if they do, do they ever win? Is it still dominated by the counterculture veterans of the 60s, ready to spike trees, or does it have elements of more proactive, solutions-based folks?

I say this because I've encountered the Green Party a number of times over the past few years; I guess you can't really be a Unitarian without somehow running into some Greens! When I was at the E.T.C. last August, there was a Green Party of Tennessee campaign workshop going on, and I stayed in the same room with some other Green party guys and even interviewed the two state party co-chairs, one of whom is from Knoxville and I think I actually voted for once.

I found just about all of their opinions on issues and policy dead-on, but I found a lot of their attitudes, choice of language, and idea of tactics hopelessly 'old-school revolutionary'. They mostly seemed like people who would be far more comfortable standing in an anti-war protest holding a sign, or perhaps participating in a pagan seance, than sitting down in government offices and governing say, a school district, much less say a state or representing people in the U.S. Senate. Following the Greens a bit across the nation, this seems to be generally the case; not always, but all too often.

I find that the younger Green people tend to be a little more reasoned in their presentation, a lot less self-consciously 'radical', and somewhat more credible as people who could pass budgets, sit in long boring meetings, negotiate with political opponents, and get difficult, complicated legislation passed- the actual nitty-gritty work of politics.

But the older folks, the ones now in their late 50s and early 60s...sigh. Sigh. I don't think I need to tell you what I'm talking about here. It's like they never really graduated from getting angry after reading "Walden Pond" and still want to spend literally hours shouting about 'the system' or 'the machine' or even 'the Man' (yes, that's right, The Man himself) is ruining everything.

And the thing is, I have so much respect for what they're saying and where they're coming from, because I'm coming from the almost exact same place, and used to have that sort of broiling, just-under-the-surface anger towards so many things. But I almost want to shout at them "ANGER IS NOT ENOUGH! I AGREE WITH YOU BUT YOU'RE SO RIDICULOUS I'M NOT SURE I'D VOTE FOR YOU, AND I'M ON YOUR SIDE!!"

I guess it's the hard-headed Midwestern pragmatist in me. I do very much consider myself an idealist, but I specify a 'practical idealist'. I want to know how we get from Point A to Point B, and then to Point C. I don't want to talk about a vague, all-encompassing revolution. I want to talk about Transition Town efforts, subsidies for organic farms, renewable energy tax credits, efforts by colleges like Warren Wilson to be sustainable and model that sustainability for their communities- proactive, wonky stuff like that. But unfortunately, at least in the States, if I want to talk about that stuff and maybe get some things to happen, one of the last people I'd walk up to would be a Green Party representative.

I'd be very interested to know what your experiences with the party and with the environmental movement at large in Canada has been, both as a member of that said generation and as somebody who's been around long enough to see perhaps what works and what doesn't.
Again, this is just coming from my experiences, and what I've seen; I don't expect it to be representative of all of the Green Party, or all older environmentalists. But it would be interesting to explore exactly how the Greens in say, Germany, ended up becoming powerful enough to co-run the national government there, and how they still have genuine influence and sway. I mean, Germans can be pretty conservative folks sometimes, so how did the Greens convince voters there that they had the best ideas? Was it how they presented them, or just that Germans were more ready for them at the time, or what?

They are some intriguing questions, and I think some important ones too. Again, thanks so much for the continuing conversation.

Geoff Trowbridge said...

Final comment: I see that very recently, a Liberal jumped over the fence and became the first Canadian Green federal MP; one Blair Wilson, of Vancouver. (The first Green MP coming from the Vancouver area sort of makes sense) I went on his website and looked around a little bit, and if he's representative of the Canadian Greens, it kind of answers some of the questions I asked you.

He's a chartered accountant described as an active churchgoer with a nice, normal-looking family and a completely unthreatening stance he's presenting himself with. He seems to be putting himself out as just a regular kind of middle-class Canadian who simply cares about his community- the human and non-human parts of it- and sees the Greens as the most responsive party to that sort of Ecological, good stewardship mindset. Hard work, personal sacrifice, integrity- classic mainstream political stuff. But I think he really believes in it, and is far from the flag-waving revolutionary archetype of the 'radical' Green activist. If he's the kind of candidate the Greens are putting up for seats across Canada, then I think they're well on their way to genuine legitimacy. Gee, I wish the U.S. Green party had candidates like that! They seem to fall into the trap of what I was describing in the last email.

Zabetha said...

t Wilson crossing the floor but did not know much about the guy other than that he was elected as a Liberal. There's been a lot of fence jumping lately, not sure what to make of that.

However, my impression of the Green Party here is that it is all over the map as far as quality and type of member are concerned. I think they are "maturing", and the previous Green Party leader, Jim Harris, is probably responsible for a lot of that. May brought a big name to the Party, the first time that they had a leader that was well-known and respected by the general public. She also brought a lot of political and media savvy to the table.

I would say that Mr Wilson is an example of the wide spectrum of party membership, but not necessarily representative of the type of candidate they field. It was a huge stretch for the Greens to commit to having a candidate in every riding in the country, and it shows. The quality of candidates is pretty marginal in some ridings. For the most part, they are young and inexperienced. In the last couple of elections there has been little party line to toe, so they haven't.

But that is changing. Before Jim Harris I would have given the Green Party no air time at all. They've come a long way since then. When May ran for the party leadership she called in every card she had to get people to join the party and vote for her as leader. She didn't really have to do that, she was pretty much of a shoo-in, but as a result the membership was dramatically increased.

I'd say the Green Party is very youthful, I heard a few comments about the difference between the Green Party and the NDP being the number of grey heads (lots of them in the NDP, not so much in the Green Party). Most leftist baby boomers found their political home in the NDP, Greens tend to be "just kids" (from my perspective, heh heh). As for anger, I don't know the Green Party well enough to comment on that. As political parties mature and become more disciplined, that kind of rhetoric and behaviour gets frowned upon as unproductive of votes.

I chuckle at your comparison of younger and older left wing types, how the younger ones are more likely to be practical and prepared for boring meetings and the nitty-gritty of day-to-day policy-making while the old '60s radicals yearn for the good old days of protest marches and radical action. You probably have more experience of that than I, but I am not sure that description would apply here. I know one or two '60s radical types who love a good protest march, but I am not sure I know anyone who believes that is the only way to make change. The few that do I suspect have long since become cynical anarchists.

Are young people more solutions-oriented? Maybe. Are they more prepared for boring meetings and the work of budgets, complicated legislation, and negotiation? I kind of doubt it. I do think younger politically-involved people seem more sophisticated than we were at the same age, and I suspect they didn't get that way all by themselves, I think they had a little help from older experienced "60s radicals".

Here in Canada, municipal elections are rarely done along party lines. Even in a major city like Toronto, most candidates for mayor and councillors are running independently. Vancouver has two parties, neither of which extends beyond Vancouver City politics. Most smaller cities and towns don't follow party politics, candidates run as individual independents. Toronto has councillors I would call "green" with a small g, but if they have any affiliations with the big-G Green Party, they don't talk about it.

Zabetha said...

Oh and one more thing Geoff. If you want a good peek into environmentalism Canadian-style, I think Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World by Rex Weyler is excellent. He does a really good job of painting the picture of how it was in the '60s and '70s, and how environmentalism has grown and changed since then.

Geoff Trowbridge said...

Thanks for the insights. I'm afraid I may be making it sound like I think the 60s generation are just old fogies who've spent their worth and should get off the stage to allow younger folks to take over. That really isn't what I think by a very long shot; I am deeply aware of the whole Newtonian "standing on the shoulders of giants" dynamic here.
I am a white man from Tennessee, a state that was segregated along with most of the rest of the Southeastern U.S. until the mid-1960s. The University of Tennessee, where my mom has worked for decades now, was officially segregated until 1961; it was, in so many ways, an officially racist system and state, set up to divide people by their race. Because of many people during the momentous years of the 1960s, many of them Boomers or near-Boomers, and many of doing things like participating in protests and holding signs, that system has been completely dismantled, and to my benefit and the benefit of so many other people. Other benefits shaped by people in those years: the Equal Rights Amendment, legalized abortion, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, creation of the E.P.A., the first Earth Day, the introduction of Yoga to the west, along with Tai-chi and many other complementary medicines, as well as the general popularization of principles of Ecology and environmental interconnectedness. Probably the internet too, with all its wonders and advantages, which includes my new iPod I so enjoy. The new wave of Organic farm, the local food movement, communes, Ecovillages, gay rights, the revival of midwifery- you name it, whether it's race, gender relations, the environment, intercultural tolerance, the young 'revolutionaries' of the 60s have made the world more enlightened, and I think genuinely better on some fronts, and I am extremely grateful to them for that. I've grown up taking largely for granted the things which previous generations, but particularly that generation, sweated long and hard to achieve.

Maybe the fact that I have grown up with those things- and in Knoxville, Tennessee of all places, hardly San Francisco- and like so many others in my generation treat them with such ease and unconscious adeptness is a testament to the success of what the best of your generation started working on some forty-odd years ago.

So, please, let me get across the fact that I know any advantages my 'cohort' might have have been built and passed down from people in times past.

Nonetheless, it seems like some sort of big generational transition is coming up, where the Boomers are going to move from being the rulers of the society to the Elders- an extremely important and noble role- and their literal and figurative children will take over. And perhaps I'm just worried about a few unhealthy patterns I've witnessed in SOME- again, definitely not all- longtime Boomer activists that worries me, where they're using tactics that failed thirty-five years ago, and still clinging stubbornly to those tactics.

A lot of this is probably just circumstancial. You've always seemed like an eminently practical person, and I'd imagine the other people your age you've come to spend time with are pretty practical, grounded folks too, who've gotten past a lot of the anger and passionate rage of their youth. The ones who never got past that, well those are those cynical anarchists. Perhaps for some reason I seem to have run into those cynical, bitter types a lot, and they've cast such a sour shadow that I've not noticed as much the Boomer folks, such as yourself, who've serious matured and CAN get down to the proactive, positive, solutions-oriented stuff.

Anyhow, I just wanted to make sure I said that. I do think there's an enormous amount of potential for the Boomers being very wise and crucial Elders, and I'll probably right about that on my blog at some point, but there will also be a transition period, and transitions are generally always hard, as I'm discovering myself right now being in college again.

Namaste, Geoff