Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Brian Topp Reveals How NDP Plays Cynical Partisan Games with Environmental Issues

I have been trying to get through B.C. NDP campaign manager and former federal leadership challenger Brian Topp’s August 21, 2013 “Campaign Post Mortem” (Topp’s own name for this document) of the NDP’s performance in the recent provincial election. I have struggled with this incredibly cynical document, written by Topp in an effort to identify what, exactly, went wrong with the NDP’s campaign, which saw Leader Adrian Dix’s party plummet from what appeared to be a 20-point pre-election lead to a majority Liberal government on election night.

Topp has a reputation of being a seasoned campaigner, so his post-mortem must make interesting reading for those in old-line parties who are focused on things like the “air war” and focus grouping political messages. Certainly, Canada’s puditocracy has been enlivened by the public release of this document. But I’m clearly not cut from the same cloth, because I just can’t seem to get past the screaming cynicism of the NDP’s (failed) electoral strategy, which appears to have reduced matters of good public policies to mere questions related to “how is this going to play itself with the media and with voters?”

OK, I get it: politics is a bloodsport – at least that’s what the old-line parties would have us believe. The NDP, based on Topp’s analysis, certainly seems ready to sacrifice their public policy positions (both good and bad) at the altar of public opinion on a moment’s notice.

Win at all Cost Attitude

Take the NDP’s incredible reversal on the Kinder-Morgan pipeline as an example. Topp writes that as late as April 11th, Dix was telling the media that the NDP would wait for more information to become publicly available before taking a position on Kinder-Morgan. This approach was changed overnight (literally, according to Topp) so that Dix could announce on Earth Day (April 22nd – just 11 days later) that despite everything he had said about Kinder-Morgan before, and without the benefit of any new information, the NDP would no longer be supporting the pipeline.

Topp writes that this policy reversal was far from altruistic – it was made instead as a blatant attempt to woo the “environmental movement” on the “green question” (see Page 28). If you read what Topp writes about Kinder-Morgan, it’s clear that Dix opposed the pipeline not because he thought it was the right thing to do, but instead because NDP backroom strategists thought that there would be more votes in it.

In fact, Topp expounds that the environmental movement did serious damage to the NDP in the 2009 election, when the BC NDP vehemently opposed the Liberal government’s carbon tax. Topp writes that it was a strategy of the BC NDP in 2013 to “avoid confrontation with the environmental movement, and perhaps to attract the support of earlier critics” (page 27).

From what Topp has to say, it appears that the BC NDP’s entire platform was nothing more than a risk-management exercise (“so we risked a much more pro-environment platform than had been the case in 2009”).

I’m just…I don’t know what. Flabbergasted? Disgusted? As if championing pro-environmental issues was something a political party could “risk”. That’s just beyond incredible to me. And frankly, it gives lie to assertions that Topp makes on page 27 about the NDP’s treating the environment and the economy as “two sides of the same coin”. I’m sorry, Mr. Topp – but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim that approaching pro-environmental policy as a risky undertaking, while pro-economic policy is a no-brainer. If the two were, as you say, two sides of the same coin, good public economic policy and good public environmental policy must be approached from the same starting point – that of good public policy.

A Justification for the NDP's Abandonment of the Environment?

But instead of trying to reconcile the NDP’s short-sighted, cynical vote-gathering strategy with what might or might not be good environmental policy, Topp instead takes a swipe at the BC Green Party, in a lame attempt to justify the NDP’s own relative silence on environmental issues. In a George Orwell moment, Topp claims that the very existence of the Green Party works against good environmental policy:

“Indeed, the existence of the Green party provides a compelling electoral incentive for all other parties at all levels of government -- New Democrat, Liberal and Conservative -- to marginalize environmental issues, an important reason why these critical issues have faded from Canadian politics. The Green party is a perfectly legitimate player in Canadian politics with every right to contest elections – just as the NDP does. So far, their work is having the opposite effect of their aims.”

This is just utter nonsense on so many levels. First, to suggest that a environmental issues could be “marginalized” by the presence of a political party which has some good ideas about those issues is simply, shockingly absurd. That’s like suggesting that a party which champions social justice or economic issues will marginalize those issues – and that no progress will happen as a result. I’m just blown away by this parochial view that somehow the Green Party owns all issues related to the environment.

If the NDP really agrees with Topp, well, it might explain a thing or two about that Party’s relative silence on climate change, but I think that it’s going to shock NDP supporters to realize that their party has ceded all issues environmental to the Greens.

The reality, of course, is quite the opposite. All national political parties in Canada (and all pan-provincial political parties in B.C.) have developed numerous policies which affect the environment (for better or worse – but all parties, I’m sure, would suggest “for the better”). Just as good public policy related to economics or social justice are not found within the realm of a single political party, nor are good public policy proposals related to the environment within the hands of a single political party. The notion that they could be is just plain silly and not supported by the facts. But why should Topp let facts get in the way of a good partisan swipe?

Silly, too, is Topp’s attempt at portraying the Green Party as working against its own environmental interests. To leap to this conclusion, Topp pretends that environmental issues have been marginalized in this country as a result of the very existence of the Green Party.

First, I have to take exception to the notion that environmental issues have somehow been “marginalized” – when I read the newspaper, I see an incredible amount of coverage of environmental issues. The entire pipeline debate, for example, is driven by climate change and energy politics – both of which are significantly issues which affect the environment (as well as the other “side” of Topp’s coin – the economy). No, I’m sorry, but environmental issues have hardly been marginalized.

Political Courage and Conviction

But presume for a moment that Topp is correct – that Topp’s definition of “environmental issue” is somehow much narrower in scope than my own (and it almost certainly is), and that perhaps what Topp is really talking about are things like saving endangered species or water quality issues or the politics (but not economics) of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If that were the case, I might agree that Canada and B.C. have taken steps backwards on some of these matters – steps which might be perceived as their “marginalization”. But even if this were so, has it happened simply because the existence of the Green Party has thwarted the environmental ambitions of the other political parties?

Or might the real culprit be the other political parties themselves, which, for whatever reason, lack the courage or the conviction to truly speak up on behalf of the natural environment? Is it maybe because for those other political parties, environmental issues are simply another part of cynical electoral calculations to be considered as part of a winner-take-all electoral strategy? Maybe Canada’s environment is suffering, not because the Green Party has the audacity to exist, but instead because Canada’s other political parties continue to be unwilling to go to bat for it.

All of this leads me to ponder just where the hell are the NDP’s ethics on the environment? I happen to know a lot of people who support the NDP – some of whom diligently take part in the NDP’s policy development processes. I may not always agree with the policy approaches put forward by NDP members, and adopted by the party, but I can say for a fact that there are many NDP members and supporters who believe that their Party takes environmental issues seriously.

After reading Topp’s post-mortem, it’s clear that the NDP uses environmental issues and supporters in the same manner as they use all partisan issues – by putting policies and platform through a filter which, as a starting point, asks whether or not the policy is a vote-winner. At the end of the day, once the NDP backroom gets their hands on member-approved policy, who knows what kind of “vote winning” strange beast might emerge.

Moral Politics

It’s such an alien concept for me, a member of the Green Party. In my party, we tell our leadership and our backroom people what’s important through our member-approved policies. Trust me, some of our member approved policies are hardly what any political party would refer to as “vote winning”. But that’s not the point – the point is to advance good public policy, even in the face of adversity, not because it’s expedient, but instead because it’s the right thing to do. Our policies are grounded in our shared values (ecological wisdom, non-violence, social justice, sustainability, participatory democracy and respect for diversity). The Leadership doesn’t get to decide whether the Party will support (or not) a particular policy, and that applies even more forcefully to the Party’s backroom people (both of them).

No, in the Green Party, member approved policy can’t simply be discarded on the whim of a Leader, or because backroom partisan strategists conducting polls and focus groups determine that a different – and in some cases, a completely opposite course would serve the Party’s interests better. I understand that it might be easier for a political party to stay on message and demonstrate policy flexibility if it can believe one thing one day and the opposite the next, but where is right and wrong in that equation? Where the will of grassroots members who work tirelessly to promote the Party and its policies? Where is the moral compass?

Topp's NDP - Not What Canada Needs

We can’t continue to waste our time doing politics like this. That’s the message that I’m taking form Topp’s post-mortem. It’s too bad that so many NDP pundits seem to be taking the exact opposite message from Topp – what they’re getting out of his post-mortem seems to be that for the NDP to be competitive, it must engage in the same cynical, opportunistic politics of negativity that the Conservatives and Liberals engage in. Topp was certainly very critical of the decision to run a strictly positive campaign – but what’s really apparent is that, negative or positive, the NDP appears to have lost its moral compass – if it ever had one to begin with.

I know reading Topp’s post-mortem must be difficult for NDP members and supporters – and not simply because it highlights in great detail how Topp believes a winning campaign was lost. But also because Topp exposes the cynical, beating heart of the NDP backroom for what it really is. In Topp’s world, issues are games to be played, opponents are to be slammed at every opportunity, and no policy decisions can only be made when the polls and focus groups come back with a thumbs-up.

This isn’t what Canada needs. Our intersts would be served much better by an NDP built on the strength of its own convictions, rather than on cynical partisan game-playing.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Neoliberalism's Green Foil, Part 3: The Green Party, the New Left, and the Greening of the NDP

In my earlier blogposts, I looked at the dual nature of change, and what that means for a left-wing political environment which is wedded to the current economic status quo. I wrote about some of the challenges facing the emerging alliance between labour and environmental movements, but concluded that not only is such an alliance necessary, it is also inevitable; only the pace of the emergence remains in doubt. The key challenge, however, for both movements will be the need to reject our current neoliberal hyper-capitalist economic system in favour of a truly “green” economic system – one which is co-operative, community based capitalist system. I wrote that moving from the current hyper-capitalist economic paradigm to the emergent green economic paradigm will require “reformational change”, which is almost certainly going to include a realignment of governance structures and institutions.

In this post, I’d like to explore what I believe to be an inevitable realignment of interests, brought about the emergence of the rejection of neoliberalism and the hyper-capitalist economy by those who may currently identify with the “left” of the political spectrum. In my previous post, I suggest that the a “new left” will emerge from the ashes the of the current liberal-focused left – and that the “new left” would be better called “green”, except for the baggage associated with that term. For the sake of consistency, I will continue to refer to the “new left” throughout this post, but it is worth keeping in mind that the values of the new left are the same values as today’s green movement.


To me, and to many others, it is self-evident that an economic system which requires perpetual growth, and which can only tolerate zero or negative growth for short periods, is doomed to failure on a planet with finite resources. Even if energy needs are to shift from non-renewable resources to renewable ones, the fact is that energy represents only a single, if significant, input into our hyper-capitalist economic system. Other resources are projected to be in short supply in the coming decades, and the extraction of more abundant resources will also only get more expensive, thanks to rising energy prices and more difficult extraction processes (such as the remoteness of deposits). In short, we’ve largely exhausted the (relatively) inexpensive extraction of resources; from here on in, things are going to get more costly. Innovation and technology will bring prices down somewhat, but we can’t rely on magic bullets for our long-term planning.

The world is going to get more expensive.

Oh, and about that energy issue: there is no evidence that the world is ready to make the necessary shift to renewable energy sources – certainly not while our elected governments continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry to the tune of billions of dollars a year. With both left-wing and right-wing political parties in Canada championing the current hyper-capitalist economic system, with the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives all talking about zero tax increases and the need to keep energy prices low, it’s guaranteed that something has to give – because the hyper-capitalist system is unsustainable in a world where perpetual growth isn’t an option.

Canada’s right-wing political parties, the Liberal and Conservative parties, have barely acknowledged the existing of the climate crisis, and certainly seem devoid of meaningful ideas regarding how best to address it. The NDP, which over the years has transitioned from its social democratic routes into a political party which embraces populist liberal ideals, has little more to offer. All three of these political parties have embraced neoliberalism to varying degrees; the Liberals and Conservatives because they believe it, and the NDP because they believe neoliberalism remains popular with voters.

Whither the NDP?

Believing that electoral success lies in the centre of the political spectrum, the NDP, first under former Leader Jack Layton, and now under current Leader Thomas Mulcair, continue to move the NDP to the right. While this may have alienated some traditional left-wing supporters of that party, others, including the labour movement, have largely bought into the idea that small-scale populist policy proposals are more likely to win over the electorate – and deliver power to the NDP – than some of the more grander, social democratic visions which the NDP used to offer. That this strategy might ultimately prove to be a vote-winner in the short term might appear to justify the move to the middle. Unfortunately for the NDP, longer-term thinking is needed.

Old-Line Support for Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Right now, all three old-line political parties are impediments to the emergent green economy, because their policies continue to promote favouring fossil fuel use over renewables. Green energy is a necessary component of the emergent green economy, and if the green economy is going to emerge, existing market place distortions which preference fossil fuels must be removed, and green energy projects must be allowed to compete in a fair and balanced market. Right now, the market is far from balanced, with fossil fuels receiving massive government subsidies and interventions which allow prices to remain low.

This may seem strange, given that Canada ostensibly has a “conservative” government in power. Conservatives have long railed against the policies of the left, which they see as interventionist. The fact of the matter is that Canada’s Conservative Party is not much of a “conservative” political party at all – and Canada has suffered from their economic mismanagement – short and long term – as a result. In the short term, we’ve seen taxes cut ostensibly to support job creation, but jobs have failed to materialize, leaving us only with massive government deficits, after years of surplus. In the long term, the government’s boosterism for and subsidy of our fossil fuel industries will prove a disaster for Canada’s economy, as taxpayers are left to fund the climate change tab that industry was let off the hook for having to pay.

From all indications, the Liberal Party, if it were to form government, would do things little differently than the Conservative Party, due to the Liberal’s continuing support for the fossil fuel industry.

Mulcair’s Incoherent Climate Plan

Which brings us back to Thomas Mulcair’s NDP. A close look at where Mulcair is taking the NDP has led me to conclude that, despite all of the talk about sustainability, the NDP would be little different from the Liberals and Conservatives in power, because Mulcair’s NDP either doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of the climate crisis, or if it does, it doesn’t want to do anything much about it. To wit, the NDP continue to promote a market-based carbon pricing mechanism which has proven to be an abject failure at curbing emissions. Cap and Trade has floundered in Europe and in the United States.

More than cap and trade, however, the NDP has on offer an incoherent policy platform which, on the one hand promotes conservation, but on the other hand seeks to keep the price of fossil fuel energy low, which will lead to more consumption and more emissions. Clearly, the NDP lacks a serious policy direction on climate change – but the NDP believes that their current suite of policies is a vote-winner. And they may be right.

Where Does the NDP Go From Here?

Going forward, the NDP will find itself in a difficult situation, no matter whether it forms government in 2015 or drops back to being Canada’s 3rd Party. The NDP is going to have to wrestle with the emergence of the “new left”, which is increasingly going to draw attention to the NDP’s climate change policy deficiencies and continued support of the hyper-capitalist economic system. The NDP is going to have to make a tough choice: will they continue to pursue electoral success by positioning itself in the middle of Canada’s political spectrum – essentially becoming a version of the Liberal Party – or will the NDP begin to adopt the ideology of the New Left, which means a serious “greening” of the NDP?

It’s not at all clear to me which way the NDP might go. Certainly, nothing is going to happen quickly, but already there exists tension within the Party between those who seek to move to the middle and those who understand that the needs of the nation lie with the rejection of our current hyper-capitalist economic system. As the environmental-labour alliance gains traction and adherents over the next decade, that tension within the NDP is only going to become more pronounced.

Interestingly, I think that the NDP’s hand may be forced one way or another by means which are not of their own making. The success of failure of the Liberal Party over the next several years may be the deciding factor. If Justin Trudeau falls on his face before the next election, and the NDP’s electoral success is significant, then it’s quite likely that the NDP will opt to solidify its position in the centre, and disparage the new left. If, however, the Liberals beat the NDP back into 3rd place, it may be that the NDP will go through a period of self-examination, ultimately emerging as the champion of the new left.

Whatever the NDP decides to do, the emergent environmental-labour alliance of the new left is going to be need a political champion. A green reformation requires the buy-in of political power and leadership in government. The NDP may yet prove to be the champion of the New Left, but if it continues on its present course, the labour and environmental movements will have to look elsewhere for leadership.

The Climate Crisis

We know that to avoid the most significant impacts of runaway climate change that the vast majority of the Earth’s fossil fuel deposits must remain in the ground, unburned. If we are to leave our children with a planet which somewhat resembles the one on which we grew up, we are rapidly running out of time to transition from fossil fuels to green energy. Runaway climate change, if we allow it to happen, could lead to the planetary collapse of natural systems, and economic and governance structures. Our long-term health requires us to take significant action now. For too long, political leaders have paid lip service to this notion. While the majority might agree, as they did in Copenhagen in 2008, to holding warming at a level of 2 degrees Celsius, there has been little evidence that they’ve taken this target seriously. The level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere continues to rise. Instead of beginning the process of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, many world governments, including Canada’s, have instead invested heavily in extracting even dirtier deposits, such as tar sands bitumen and methane-releasing shale gas.

Yet, in Canada, the old-line political parties continue to treat climate change as an environmental issue. It isn’t. Climate change is a systems issue – it is THE issue – the single, over-riding issue of the 21st Century on which all other issues will take their cue. Climate change will effect global economies; it will reduce life expectancy. It will lead to resource conflicts. It will lead to the mass movement and relocation of peoples. It will have impacts on the natural environment. It is an economic, health, social, agricultural, physiological issue whose scope is unprecedented in humanity’s history, thanks to its global nature.

The New Left – A Natural Alliance

We know what has to be done to combat climate change. Our consumer-driven hyper-capitalist economic system is the gravest threat to planet. Neoliberal economic interests have done what they can to stack the system in order to keep it going – to feed the notion that “growth” is good, necessary and inevitable, despite the reality that it is none of those things. As energy prices rise due to the end of inexpensive energy, the maintenance of growth requires that other inputs be cut, and the cost of labour is the easiest and most obvious target. To ensure that growth continues, wages must be kept in check, unions must be busted and laws which curtail collective bargaining must be made. The labour movement has fallen firmly in the sights of the neoliberal interests which have erected barrier after barrier in the fight against climate change.

It is natural that the environmental movement and the labour movement join forces at this time, because of the significant overlap of interests. In fact the idea of an “alliance” doesn’t go far enough. What’s needed instead is an integration. The labour movement must infuse itself with environmentalism. In short, labour has to go green. And that’s exactly what labour has been doing.

In Canada, the NDP has long been the champion of the labour movement, but what we will witness over the next decade may very well be a divergence of labour from the NDP – a divergence which is actually well underway. As the NDP moves to the right of the political spectrum and continues the call for more supports to our hyper-capitalist economic system, and stymies the emergence of the green economy, the labour movement is heading in the opposite direction by greening itself and joining the battle against the climate crisis.

A labour movement which finds itself at odds with one political patron will be forced to look elsewhere for political support. If the NDP can’t reform itself into a green party, labour and the New Left will have to start reaching out in a significant way to the Green Party.

The Green Party – Canada’s Only “Green” Party

In Canada, the only federalist political party which champions the emergent green economy is the Green Party. Despite what you may have discovered on CBC’s Vote Compass, it is a stretch of the imagination to suggest that the Green Party is a left-wing political party. However, nor is it particularly right-wing. In fact, it’s not a good fit for the left/right political spectrum at all, and it should be no wonder that many Greens, including me, reject the whole notion of a left-right political spectrum (even though we may use it in blog after blog as a good short hand barometer).

While the Green Party has traditionally supported pro-labour legislation, some within the labour movement have viewed this party, my party, as being anti-labour due to the issues Greens raise over resource extraction, along with our support of carbon pricing. Wrongly, I believe, labour has equated carbon and resource pricing with threats to jobs and the health of the economy. As a result, labour has historically shunned the Green Party.

Some environmentalists, too, have taken issue with the Green Party, although usually not from a policy perspective. Often its because environmentalists have found homes in the NDP and Liberal parties and believe that those parties are the best vehicles to bring about pro-environmental political change, due to their past electoral successes and their relative prospects for future success. However, I believe that environmentalists are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with their support of these parties, due to the lack of prioritization either the Liberals or the NDP afford to the issue of addressing climate change.

Change: Opportunities and Threats for the Green Party

As the labour movement and environmental movement move closer together, it will increasingly become clear that their primary issues of social and environmental justice are one and the same. The Green Party has long understood this, and as the Party continues to mature, it may very well continue to challenge the NDP for the support of the New Left. As the threat to social and environmental justice is clearly our hyper-capitalist economic system, the NDP’s continued embrace of that economic system very well could drive the New Left towards the Green Party.

Of course, the Green Party faces its own serious set of challenges, which all stem from a lack of past electoral success. For many voters, the Green Party just isn’t a serious option, whether that’s because there is an implicit understand that Green candidates can’t win elections, or because of concerns regarding policies with which voters may lack comfort. As I observed before, change, while inevitable, is always resisted. That we know we must change our profligate ways is one thing – actually acting on that knowledge is another thing altogether.

The threat that the rise of the Green Party poses to all three old-line parties means that Canada’s political vested interests will continue to do what it can to keep the Green Party down in an attempt to make it irrelevant to voters. However, if the New Left can’t convince the NDP to tow their line and get serious about the climate crisis, it may be that the New Left, led by the labour movement, could add its considerable resources to contribute to the Green Party’s success.

And of course, that’s a double-edged sword. Right now, the labour movement has little influence or presence in the Green Party, and as a result, there will be some trepidation amongst greens who may perceive labour’s interests to be out of alignment with their own. This may be mitigated to an extent by the coming together of the labour and environmental movements, and the gradual pace of their integration. I don’t expect union bosses to urge their members to buy memberships in the Green Party en masse on sunny April day next year – likely it will be an incremental process, although I certainly hope it proceeds a little faster than that.

Social Justice and Carbon Fee & Dividend

Of course the New Left might also leave its policy mark on the Green Party, too. An obvious target for labour and the New Left would be the Green Party’s carbon fee and dividend policy, which may be seen as being too right-wing for the New Left. A carbon price scheme which fails to invest returns into social justice programs may not be the best model to ease the emergence of the green economy. Good riddance, I say, as I don’t believe that the carbon fee and dividend approach to carbon pricing is the best option for Canada. A revenue-neutral carbon tax, with some carbon revenues going towards income supports for those less well off (perhaps in the form of a guaranteed annual income) would be a much more equitable carbon price mechanism. The New Left may demand that revenues be treated as investments, rather than returned directly to all Canadians, whether their income is $1,000 a year or $1 milion. In anticipation of issues related to equity, the Green Party should get out ahead of the New Left and seriously consider reverting back to a revenue neutral tax shift carbon pricing model.

The New Left and the Greening of the NDP

While I have an interest in the New Left investing in the Green Party, as a realist, I expect that of the two possible candidates for the New Left’s support, I believe that the NDP will likely prove to be the better vehicle. My rationale for this statement is as follows: one of the conditions for the NDP to maintain itself as a centrist party would likely be the relative loss of influence of the Liberal Party. That means that the NDP is going to have experience a high level of electoral success in the next election. Given the popularity of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau with the electorate, I just can’t see anything but Liberal gains in the next election at the expense of the NDP. Any scenario in which the NDP ends up as neither government or Official Opposition will lead the NDP towards a period of self-examination (especially if the Liberals or Conservatives form a majority government – political self-assessments are always more difficult to undertake in minority situations).

Any NDP self-assessment in this circumstance is almost assuredly going to lead the NDP to move away from the crowded middle, and to return to its more activist roots. With a labour movement which increasingly understands environmental issues at its back, what the ultimate outcome may very well be is a true greening of the NDP. In a circumstance of electoral defeat for the NDP, is it possible to imagine an outcome other than this? Shut out of the middle and flanked by a growing concern in the Green Party, it’s pretty clear to me that there would be only one route forward for the NDP – and that’s to become a “green” political party. And that would, I believe, pretty much mean a wrap for the Green Party.

Only the electoral success of the NDP could conceivably alter that scenario, and even then, it wouldn’t be a gimme. The NDP will have plenty of reasons to consider greening itself, either as Official Opposition or in government. The New Left in particular is going to be demanding it, and since many of the NDP’s members will also be involved in the New Left movement, the NDP is going to have to wrestle with this reality. Ultimately, however, the NDP might continue to hold its present course of embracing hyper-capitalism in an effort to retain its populism.

The Liberal and Conservative Parties: Not Green

What about the potential for the New Left to support either the Liberal or the Conservative Party? Why do I believe that a (much reformed) NDP is the best bet, followed by an energized Green Party? Well, I don’t believe that the liberal and Conservative nature of either of these two parties is compatible with the emergence of a green economy in preference to our hyper-capitalist system. Further, both the Conservative and Liberal parties are rife with neoliberal ideology. Unless either of these parties undergoes a fundamental reformation or is exposed to revolutionary change, I can’t see either becoming a real green Party. And since that sort of reformational change is simply too big to contemplate, well, I don’t think it could happen – not before the NDP, or the Greens in a significant way, get there and occupy the space first.

If the Liberals flounder in the next election, and if the Green Party can put in a good showing and continue to build around a caucus of legislators, it may be at some point down the road Greens and Liberals might find it in their political interests to get together. Make no mistake, though: such an alliance would be considered unholy by stalwarts in both parties. The Liberals would have to undergo significant reform to make their party appealing to Greens, albeit I suspect that dropping support for hyper-capitalism wouldn’t be necessary (and it would be a complete no-go for Liberals). In the end, however, such a merger would more than likely just muddy the waters and what we’d end up with would be a kinder, gentler Liberal Party, still enmeshed in the spirit of hyper-capitalist consumerism. Sort of something like Thomas Mulcair’s NDP, only with better environmental and economic policies. Whatever a Liberal-Green hypothetical merger would be, however, it wouldn’t be the sort of political vehicle that could take meaningful action on climate change, as it wouldn’t recognize that the gravest threat to the health of the our planet.

And the Conservatives? Forget it. I fully expect that they’ll eventually get around to taking an active interest in climate change, but as far as recognizing it as an economic threat? I just don’t see it. The Conservative Party’s ideology is neoliberal.

Looking Forward

In 10 years time, the challenges of the climate crisis will be more immediately obvious to voters. The political parties which vie for their votes are most likely to begin putting forward more comprehensive and consistent platforms regarding social and environmental justice. Those parties which continue to support runaway resource development of fossil fuels will find an electorate that is well into a fundamental shift, largely pitting younger voters against older ones. It’s not clear to me that two political parties which continue to embrace tar sands and shale gas expansion can co-exist nationally in this changing reality, much less the three that we have today. I fully expect there to be a significantly altered political landscape 10 years from now, thanks to energy politics and the emergence of the New Left.

Whether my Green Party has a place in that political reality remains to be seen – but what is certain is that there will be more “greens” voting than ever before. David Suzuki once claimed that he didn’t see the need for a “Green Party” because it was his belief that all parties should be “green”. What’s clear in our current political environment is that there is only one “green” Party right now –but that may give way in the near future if the NDP finally figures out what “doing politics differently” really means.

A Green New Democratic Party – Good for Canada

I will continue to hope that the NDP will finally “get it” one day and abandon policies which will subsidize fossil fuel use. I will continue to hope that the NDP will get rid of its cap and trade carbon pricing policy, and replace it with one which favours a revenue neutral carbon tax. I will hope that the NDP, instead of embracing consumerism and our hyper-capitalist system, takes a longer look at what is in the ultimate interests of our nation and comes to the conclusion that economic reformation is needed in Canada, starting with abandoning free trade agreements.

That’s a pretty tall order for any political party, I know. It’s certainly not something which is likely to happen overnight. Or…maybe it would. The NDP has this chameleon-like ability to transform – of all of Canada’s political parties, it has done the best job of re-inventing itself throughout the past 50 years (unless you consider Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative Party to be the direct lineal ancestor of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party – and I don’t). It may be that at some future membership convention, the Party elite hands the Party back to its members, invigorated by the proposition that a New Left is best positioned to be the champion of social and environmental justice. Party policy could change overnight in that scenario, and the NDP that emerges from such a convention could be another green Party. Ultimately, that would be good for Canada.

So if it seems that I’ve been very hard on the NDP in this series of blogposts (and in many other posts that I’ve made), it’s only because the NDP has massively failed to live up to my hopes and aspirations at this point. However, I continue to have hope that the NDP might one day find its way again and put its political values at the forefront, rather than promoting its current prime directive, which is to win at all costs. If the NDP were to dispense with its populist policy buffet that is ultimately not helpful in combatting the climate crisis, it would be worth another look by voters, in my opinion. But, in the words of the theme music from Smokey and the Bandit (hey, I am a child of the 80s), “We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.”

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Neoliberalism's Green Foil, Part 2: The Emergence of the New Left

Change is inevitable. That was one of the first lessons taught to me when I went to Planning School at Ryerson University in the early 1990s. It was a pretty easy lesson for those of us born in the latter part of the 20th Century – a time which saw significant changes in social norms and technology. For anyone growing up in the 1980s, as I did, the notion that change could be anything but inevitable would have seemed very strange.

The Faces of Change

And yet we inhabit a world which tends to resist change, rather than embrace it. This, too, is understandable to a degree, for the familiar is comfortable while change brings with it altered circumstances which are unknowable. As the ancient I Ching, or a modern urban planner could tell you, change presents both opportunities and challenges. In contrast, the status quo offers the comfort of a degree of certainty, which typically lends itself to be the default motivator for just about everyone.

These dual realities lead to a significant level of friction in our society. Change will occur, and it will be resisted. Some would say that the trick is how best to manage change so that it occurs on our terms – not too fast so that the status quo is altered fundamentally, but not too slow so that we undermine our ability to innovate and prosper through over-regulation, which in turn could lead to strife. Others on either extreme will assert that change should simply be allowed to occur at its own pace, or that the status quo must be preserved for the sake of tradition and stability. I think it’s fair to say that I have always related more to those who want to manage change – although I’m not always in agreement that the pace of change should always be moderate.

While change can and does occur on its own terms, the argument that we should simply allow for change to happen takes us down the road to catastrophe, as it ignores the reality that unplanned for change can be devastating. If we do not assess the consequences of the changes which we unleash in the world, if we fail to consider consequences and how change might impact ourselves, our families, our neighbours, our communities and our planet, then there is no good which can come from this viewpoint. That it may be less costly in the short term to allow the inevitable to happen on its own fails to recognize how costly it will be down the road.

Conservatives and Change

Yet this point of view of allowing change to occur on its own terms has many advocates amongst those who support a neoliberal economic viewpoint and the Conservative political organizations which tend to be supported by neoliberal adherents. On the Canadian political scene, the Conservative and Liberal parties represent neo-liberal economic interests, as do the Democratic and Republican Parties in the United States. Conservative support for runaway change may appear to be ironic, as conservatism has it its roots the notion that change should be resisted so as not to overwhelm the populace, and to perpetuate economic stability. Conservatism has always presented itself as the champion of the status quo, in conflict with change. However, by ignoring the flip-side of the coin, which is that change is inevitable, Conservatives, in their pursuit of resistance, have gone down the blind alley of failing to plan for the future. Neoliberal economic schools of thought, of course, embrace Conservative principles regarding a failure to plan for the future, because this failure leads to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

The Left Wing and the Status Quo

The perpetuation of the status quo has been championed by the political left-wing over the past half century. While Canada’s labour movement originally coalesced around the need to bring about managed change to the relationship between workers and owners, since the hard-fought victories won by labour, it is fair to say that the labour movement itself has become entrenched with protecting the status quo. While this may be gradually changing (and that is the subject of this blogpost), it is probably something which those on the left side of our political spectrum fail to see within their movement – and within themselves.

By supporting the perpetuation of our hyper-capitalist economic system, albeit on terms favourable to labour, the movement and its primary political allies (which is the New Democratic Party in Canada, and the Democratic Party in the United States) have been calling for more of the same, save for tweaks which are perceived to make life better for citizens in the short term. This support of the status quo has left the labour movement chaffing and directionless, and without the support of an increasing number of Canadians who view labour as obstructionist supporters of “red tape” and the status quo at the expense of innovation and prosperity.

Again, this attitude may surprise those on the left of the political spectrum. To those who self-identify as NDP and labour supporters, I ask you this: have you noticed in the past decade or so how often the political right has started to describe itself as “progressive” and the left-wing as “regressive”? While it may be that you have scoffed at what appears to be a bizarre labelling of traditional liberal and conservative epitaphs, nevertheless it cannot be contested that the political right has increasingly come to view itself as the voice of progressivism – simply because it stands opposed to the pro-labour status quo which has evolved over the past half-century, and which to a degree impedes neoliberal economic objectives.

By seeking to transform the status quo, by allowing change to happen on its own terms without roadblocks, regulation, or (sometimes) market intervention, Conservatives and neoliberals may actually have a point to make that they are being “progressive” in their pursuit of tearing down the status quo and replacing it with, interestingly, a future as seemingly uncertain as the financial markets themselves.

What’s so Hot About the Status Quo, other than the Planet?

Those on the left and in the labour movement, however, should be far less concerned with ownership of the “progressive” label than they are about their support for the status quo. Even in their opposition to the runaway hyper-capitalism of neoliberal economics, the left continues to frame itself as defenders of the status quo – or where there is real conflict, it is only so far as to fight the good fight for a return to the status quo, by taking on “right to work” legislation and other union-busting laws and tactics used by conservatives in their pursuit of tearing down the existing system.

A better question for the left is why it continues to persist in championing the status quo at the expense of an approach which manages the truly reformational changes society needs to undertake to meet the change-challenges of the 21st Century? These challenges are well-known – and that we must face them is inevitable. The climate is changing, and energy continues to get more expensive, as we bump against the end of inexpensive energy. The emergence of a truly green economy is necessary to meet these challenges, as they can’t be addressed on the terms of our current hyper-capitalist economic model. The neoliberal status quo, economically speaking, offers no basis for defence.

Labour and the Green Economy

Indeed, it seems to me that those on the left and within the labour movement have finally started to come around and undertake a little bit of introspection. Certainly, there is a much greater understanding of the need for reformational change to our economic institutions and processes, in order to move to a green economy which better addresses the 21st Century challenges of climate change and wealth inequality. But for labour, it’s been a long time in coming, and there is still a long way to go. Some within the labour movement view the coming a green economy as a threat, since their jobs depend on maintaining the fossil fuel status quo. As a result, there will be increasing friction between conservative forces in the labour movement and those who understand that the economic status quo is not sustainable.

Naomi Klein advocates an alliance between labour and environmentalists – one in which the labour movement acts as an anchor for the cause of reformational economic change (see: “Naomi Klein: Climate Change, Unions and a United Left Agenda”, posted at Climate & Capitalism, September 4, 2013). Klein refers to this alliance as a “united left” – terminology which I can’t support, given the political left’s current investment in hyper-capitalism – at the very least, I’d prefer “new left” or calling it what it is: “Green”). Klein correctly identifies the neoliberal hyper-capitalist system as the gravest threat to the planet, and to the emergence of a truly green 21st Century economy.

In fact, we’ve begun to see an environmental/labour alliance emerge over the past few years, and it’s truly exciting to watch and to take part in. Of course, there are significant challenges, both within the labour movement and the environmental movement. Even the way that these movements communicate amongst themselves can be challenges.

The New Left Alliance: Challenges for Environmentalists

More fundamentally, the environmental movement has been partially co-opted by the very same neoliberal forces which Klein has identified as the most severe threat to planetary health. Specifically, big environmental organizations which have consumed the lion’s share of resources on campaigns which lead to marginal successes (such as saving a particular stand of trees, or to add conservation status to a particular piece of property) have bought into the notion that the world can be saved within the context of the current economic paradigm, which is hyper-capitalism.

It can’t. Neoliberal hyper-capitalism must be rejected out of hand by any who truly want to find themselves on a path towards a 21st Century green economy. I know that this is a scary proposition for some in the environmental movement, and particularly some of my own friends and family members who may have been involved with a Big Enviro campaign. I’m not suggesting that saving trees or preserving lands or wildlife isn’t important, because it is. What I am suggesting is that a lot of time, energy and money have been going towards matters which haven’t taken us very much further towards the reformational changes we need to make. If anything, most of what has been accomplished in the past several decades have been isolated and disconnected. Although I dislike using military analogies in my writing, I do find that they can be useful to communicate some ideas quickly. In this case, small, individual skirmishes might have been won, but the overall war is one which environmentalists are clearly losing. In battle, a successful commander wishes to fight on ground of their own choosing. For too long, environmentalists have ceded that decision to the forces of hyper-capitalism.

And it’s not just the co-opting of Big Enviro which has contributed to the perpetuation of the hyper-capitalist economic system. Indeed, many well-intentioned environmental activists have found themselves intimately involved with political parties (either on the inside or from the outside) which continue to embrace liberal ideologies. By their very definition, liberals and liberal political parties such as the NDP, believe that economic growth is required for prosperity. The notion which places “growth” in the central position within the current economic paradigm is clearly one which is outdated and unsustainable, but undeniably populist. In fact, the very notion of zero or negative growth is one which generally terrifies the public.

However, the fact is that the perpetual growth required by the hyper-capitalist system on a planet of finite resources is unsustainable. Most environmental activists know and understand this, yet some continue to support political parties and organizations which look for growth-based solutions within the existing hyper-capitalist economic context for issues such as climate change. Some would say that since the problem of climate change is one which is global in scale, that it only makes sense that climate change be addressed globally, through international treaties such as Kyoto.

I would agree with the first part, but not the second.

Yes, the climate crisis is global in scale, and as such, it requires a global solution. That solution, however, cannot be one rooted in the existing hyper-capitalist context. While part of the solution might make a good start within that context (as Kyoto has tried to do, with mixed success), the reality is that no agreement made within the current economic system is going to be successfully implemented by those who are wed to hyper-capitalism. If we want a truly global solution, perhaps it’s time to stop focusing on international emissions reductions targets (which may or may not ever be met), and instead focus on the reform of our economic institutions which favour hyper-capitalism to the detriment of the emergent green economy.

For starters, it’s time that environmentalists start talking about free trade – more specifically, the need to terminate free trade agreements, which are standing in the way of locally implementable solutions to emissions reduction.

The New Left Alliance: Challenges for Labour

The labour movement too must deal with its own internal frictions – for too long the labour movement has been at the vanguard of opposition to needed energy reforms, due to the notion that carbon pricing will lead to job loss and possibly recession. We continue to see this attitude from labour today, as unions speak in favour of pipeline developments which will exacerbate the problem of growing tar sands emissions. Too often, labour has been focused on short-term gains over long term investments. This attitude has to change.

Also, the labour movement has tended to pick political winners and losers, motivating their base to actively campaign for political parties which offer policies which are perceived to be in the interests of labour. While not always successful in influencing the outcome of all elections, the fact is that labour support for political parties can, at times, be formidable. Yet the political parties which labour tends to endorse (the NDP and the Liberal Party) have policies which actively undermine the long-term health of union members and their families. The Liberal and New Democratic parties are wedded to the perpetuation of the hyper-capitalist economic system. As that circumstance can’t be tolerated, it may mean that labour will need to look elsewhere to achieve the goals of Klein’s environmental-labour alliance – or that political parties will need to change in order to garner the support of the emergent alliance.

The Pace of Change

I believe that the emerging alliance between labour and environmentalism is necessary – in fact, I believe that it needs to be far more than a simple “alliance” (a term which Klein does not use), as it implies a union between two sides. Instead, the labour movement and the environmental movement must become integrated movements – and here’s where my own “new let” terminology comes into play. For clearly an integrated movement between labour and environmentalism can and should rightly be described as “green”, but that term implies something which is bigger than labour or environmentalism and has political overtones which may not be palatable to some.

My own frustration, however, has to do with the intransigence of labour and environmentalists to recognize that such an alliance is within their own interests. I understand that it’s difficult to simply abandon the way that business has been conducted for long periods of time and try something new – yet if the New Left is to be successful, liberal-based unions and environmentalists must do just that. Labour and environmentalists must reject the hyper-capitalist system in favour of a green economic system. Simply favouring “green jobs” isn’t enough – we need to facilitate the arrival of a truly green economy. As long as political decision-makers remain advocates for the current economic system, the emergence of the green economy will be curtailed.

Yet, change is always resisted, so I don’t have a lot of hope that labour or big enviros are going to change their spots any time soon. More likely, it will be a slow coming together of interests – unless there is some significant event which leads to a massive and abrupt change of public opinion. My concern is that more time is going to be lost in fits and starts as internal introspection leads to internal resistance.

It may be that a generational shift will finally bring the labour and environmental movements together in an integrated way. Sometimes paradigms shift only when the last adherents to the old way of thinking give way completely to the younger adherents of the new model. The problem with the generational approach, though, is simply that it takes too long: the climate isn’t going to wait. The window for meaningful action, if it’s still open at all, is closing rapidly.

The status quo is a comfortable one in which to operate. Yet, ties with liberal political ideologies must be severed – and the political parties which support these liberal ideologies must either change themselves and adapt, or be abandoned by supporters. In the United States, it’s going to be a difficult challenge in particular, as labour and environmentalists have long found a champion in the Democratic Party. But the Democratic Party is at its very heart an instrument of the neoliberal hyper-capitalist economic system. Our American friends will likely have to build a new political institution from the ground up. At least here in Canada there are some other options. In my next post, I’ll explore what some of those options are.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Neoliberalism's Green Foil, Part 1: the Climate Crisis and the Old Left

My oldest daughter, Veronica, has started to speak in ways that I don’t always understand. Having turned 3 years of age this past summer, I've noticed that she has picked up numerous phrases, vocal intonations and songs from sources that I know nothing about. Undoubtedly, some have come from her exposure to television, and others come from relatives or friends of the family. It may be that some of it even comes from me, but I’ve just failed to recognize it as such, seeing my own self in her, thinking that it’s “normal”.

Words and Ideas

Words and terminology are powerful forces which help frame our ideas. Some say that an idea can’t exist outside of the framework of the words we use to describe them. In the same way that an electron’s behaviour is influenced by the very measuring devices we employ to observe the electron, so too are our ideas shaped, in part, by the way in which we describe them.

That’s why I wanted to take a moment to talk about words and ideas, and specifically, some of the words and ideas that I’m going to employ throughout this series of blogposts, because the ideas conveyed by the words which I’ve selected to describe them may be interpreted by readers in ways which I had not intended, due to my own shortcomings with their employ. In short, I’m hoping that by providing a brief glossary, we all might find ourselves on the same page, so to speak, when it comes to the ideas that I’m going to express.

The Populist Left and the Climate Crisis

But before I get to that, I feel the need to provide you with a bit of an explanation about what these posts are intended to be about. I’ve been mulling these ideas over in my mind for some time now, but a few things have happened which have led me to want to sit down and share these ideas with you this evening.

In a recent blogpost, I took to task Ruth Farquahar, a local columnist who appears weekly in the Sudbury Star. Specifically, I was less than impressed that Ms. Farquahar decided to frame her most recent condemnation of the McLean’s Mountain wind project on Manitoulin Island around the idea that this energy project is receiving unsustainable subsidies from our provincial government through the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program (see: “Cynical Politics, Bad Economics: Feed-in-Tariffs and the Political Left”, August 30, 2013). Usually, attacking wind projects by proxy through objections to FIT programs are the realm of the right-wing of the political spectrum. Here in Ontario, the Progressive Conservative Party has been telling voters that FIT is a waste of money. As a result, I was a little surprised that Ms. Farquahar, who based on the the wealth of evidence in her past columns is clearly not on the right side of the political spectrum, would choose this line of attack.

But, as I pointed out in my blogpost, the fact of that matter is that increasingly, the left-wing side of the political spectrum has found itself less than thrilled at embracing the politics of renewable energy, and frankly, at wanting to meaningfully address the climate crisis. Part of this has to do with a reluctance to discuss climate change, which continues to be seen by the left as a vote-losing proposition. Another part of it has to do with the left’s lack of ideas on how to approach energy politics in any way except to be in opposition to rising rates, so that the “little guy” doesn’t get burned at the pump or on electricity bills.

The NDP's Poor Policy Mix

Addressing climate change in a satisfactory way, however, requires having a serious discussion about energy – and that’s where energy politics comes in. Here in Canada, the NDP is indisputably the champion of the left wing of our political system. Also indisputably, the policies of the NDP as they relate to climate change and energy are not on the same page. The NDP would have voters believe that the climate crisis can be addressed through market mechanisms, while energy prices are kept affordable, often through market interventions, such as capping the price of gasoline. This contradictory policy approach so grossly ignores the reality of climate change that it is an embarrassment to suggest that the NDP is the champion of any form of coherent policy development at all.

I don’t say that lightly, either, as the matter of the climate crisis is intimately woven through the other issues which the NDP considers itself to be a champion of: fiscal responsibility, fighting for the little guy, social justice, wealth equality and environmental justice. Without a coherent policy framework which addresses the reality of the climate crisis, all other policy initiatives will be negatively impacted. To be clear, any energy policy which does not recognize and address the underlying principle that the majority of fossil fuel reserves in the world today must remain in the ground fails to recognize the 21st Century reality of the climate crisis. The NDP, by embracing policies which continue to promote the profligate use of fossil fuels, clearly fails in the test of having a coherent policy basis.

Mainstream Politics – Going the Wrong Way

That being said, the NDP isn’t alone on the Canadian scene in this respect. The Liberal and Conservative prties also fail to recognize and acknowledge the over-arching issue of the global climate crisis in their policy approach, and to an extent much greater than does the NDP, in my opinion. That being said, with the data available now for decades, none of these three political parties can be forgiven for policy proposals which, if implemented (and they are being implemented) will take Canada down the completely wrong path, which sees the investment of scarce public resources into projects which will exacerbate the climate crisis rather than address it.

And that being said, it’s pretty clear that a significant majority of the populace is not motivated to cast their ballots for parties which promote a coherent climate change policy approach. If anything, it seems that those who do vote largely do not prioritize addressing the climate crisis as a major (and certainly not singular) ballot-box issue. Given this electoral reality, is it any surprise that the policies of Canada’s 3 largest political parties are not coherent on addressing the climate crisis, and instead offer voters a buffet of more populist policy fare, which frankly is much more easily digestible?

NDP – Not Doing Politics Differently

That the NDP has chosen to engage voters on populist policies should not be a surprise in this electoral reality. However, the NDP has long maintained to the public that it does politics differently, and would implement meaningful (if not comprehensive) changes to legislation if they were to ever form a government. To back-up such claims, the NDP can point to a slew of progressive, member-approved policies. However, when the NDP has found itself in power in a number of Canadian provinces, the degree of change has not been significant, and their track record for progressive policy implementation has been nothing to brag about.

Take, for instance, the NDP’s stated policy on electoral reform which favours replacing our current, archaic first-past-the-post electoral system with proportional representation, which is more equitable form of electing public officials, and which would have represented a transformational change to election processes. When in power in Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia, the NDP consistently failed to act on proportional representation. Indeed, in the latter two provinces, it was the Liberal Party which at least attempted to be seen to be paying lip service to democratic reform, by holding half-hearted referendums on proportional representation.

As for “doing politics differently”, there has been no evidence that the NDP has done anything other than to move away from ownership of that statement. First, under Leader Jack Layton, and now under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair, the NDP has made the conscious decision to engage the other political parties on their own turf, rather than the NDP's. Negative attack ads have become the NDP’s choice weapons in shaping electoral public opinion. Robocall phone scams which have earned the ire of the CRTC, the acceptance of illegal campaign donations – all of this shows that the NDP is more than happy to find itself in a race to the bottom with the Liberal and Conservative parties. Rather than talking about matters of substance, the NDP is content to engage in the gotcha politics of spin in pursuit of what has become the one and only over-riding issue for the Party: the attainment of power. In pursuit of electoral power, all else, including a coherent policy position on the climate crisis, must take second place. This isn’t doing politics differently.

The Left-Wing Adrift

And it’s a shame, really, for I know that I’m not alone in saying that I had come to expect more from the NDP. But this party, like the left-wing of the Canadian political spectrum which it champions, and the labour movement from which it arose, has been adrift for the past few decades. Again, I don’t say that lightly. Canada’s left has been fighting a war of attrition against the forces of change – and they’ve been losing, despite the recent electoral success of the federal NDP in the 2011 national election. The labour movement itself has been under attack from right-wing legislators, who view unions as impediments to the pursuit of the neoliberal economic doctrine of growth at all costs. Fighting such a war of attrition can clearly exhaust limited resources – resources which otherwise might have been used to forge ahead with new ideas and the expansion of social democratic pursuits. But the left has found itself in this scorched earth battle not simply because of having a limited reach thanks to scarce resources. In many respects, it is fighting this war on ground of its own choosing: in defence of the status quo.

Let me go back to Ms. Farquahar’s anti-FIT tirade, which I indicated earlier was one of the items which has motivated me to finally sit down and try to generate a coherent series of posts on this matter (which I’ve yet to name!). I understand that Ms. Farquahar doesn’t speak for the left or for the NDP, but I can’t help but equate her attack of the FIT program as being yet another example of left engaging in populist politics in pursuit of power. The thing is, I know that those on the left understand that programs like FIT are necessary in our current economic environment – which heavily subsidizes non-renewable fuels and generation. It’s because of the historic market interventions in the form of fossil fuel subsidies that renewable energy has been having a difficult time breaking through in the marketplace. FIT programs are designed to help level the playing field, making the marketplace at least a little more equitable. Of course, the removal of those subsidies for fossil fuels would probably be a better policy approach – and one I might add which the NDP purports to be in favour of – but given that’s not happening any time soon, FIT programs can and do help the green energy sector.

Why then attack FIT programs?

The NDP's Prime Directive

The answer goes back to the NDP’s prime directive: win at all costs. To win, a political party must make itself appealing to the electorate. One way of doing so is to engage in populist politics. If a party says that it will give voters what they want, well, that’s certainly an enticement for voters – and probably a better approach than having a serious, adult conversation about the real challenges and needs of voters in our 21st Century reality. With this in mind, it is a sensible electoral strategy for the NDP to tread a more moderate line when it comes to renewable energy, because growth for the NDP in Ontario means attracting more rural voters. The perception is that, thanks to an overbearing and poorly implemented top-down green energy strategy, coupled with misleading anti-wind campaigns and a compliant anti-wind media, rural voters in Ontario aren’t big fans of wind farms. And as a result, we’ve seen the Ontario NDP moderate its position on renewable energy over time to the point that during the last provincial election, NDP candidates said that they would slow down growth in the renewable energy sector – which is, by the way, the fastest growing industrial sector in the world!

So, it all makes sense, politically speaking. But it’s not “doing politics differently”. And it’s certainly not putting the needs of 21st Century citizens ahead of short-term political gain.

Naomi Klein and the Politics of the “New Left”

One of the other items which has motivated me to write this blog series has been my reading of Naomi Klein’s recent works, including a very interesting speech she made at the founding of UNIFOR, Canada’s largest private sector union (see: “Naomi Klein: Climate Change, Unions and a United Left Agenda”, posted at Climate & Capitalism, September 4, 2013). I’ll not go into any great detail on that right now, as I’ll be exploring my personal motivations related to these writings elsewhere in this series. Suffice it to say for now that Klein appears to be offering a legitimate way forward for society in the 21st Century which is coherent and which may be, frankly, the only realistic chance we have of addressing austerity and climate change issues.

The nucleus of this Kleinian ideology requires that the left be on board – something which, up until recently, didn’t seem particularly likely. However, over the past number of years, there has been a real revival in the vigour of the labour movement, emerging in reaction to the right-wing attacks on unionism. While this revival has been primarily focused on fighting the scorched earth battles I discussed earlier, out of it has also emerged is a growing sense of an intertwined fate with the environmental movement. There is still a ways to go – but if Klein is right, and I believe she is, the only way forward is for labour to fully acknowledge and embrace the idea that combating the climate crisis must be the over-riding priority of the “new left”. From this effort all else will flow, including what I am calling a “capitalist reformation”, in which the seeds for the rise of co-operativism will be sown.

Words Chosen Carefully

And when I start to throw around words like “co-operativism”, and people star to think of “collectivism” and the many negative overtones associated with that word, I know that it’s time that I return to that gloassary of terms I wrote about at the beginning of this post. I understand that I might use certain words in ways which may challenge your conventions and be outside of the framework in which you normally have seen them. I understand that this may lead to your questioning the legitimacy of my use of these terms, which is fair. I also understand that, based on your own beliefs related to these words, you may feel that I my misrepresentation may completely taint my arguments, rendering them so vastly incorrect as to be unintelligible.

I'd ask, however, that you keep in mind that I am coming to you from a particular perspective. To help you understand my own context, keep in mind that I am coming at this from the perspective of a Green, and as such, I can’t help but express ideas through a Green lens. That being said, to suggest that there is only one, single “Green lens” would be the same as saying that there is only one type of liberal – a notion which is patently absurd. So clearly my ideas, as seen through a Green lens, remain my own. I have, however, given a lot of thought to the terminology which I'll use throughout this post, and although I'm sure that I'm liable to be a little inconsistent in its application, I'll try my hardest not to be. Nevertheless, I expect that my lens may challenge some readers.

As an example, when I write about right-wing political parties in Canada, I will be referring to the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. I understand that some feel more comfortable placing the Liberal Party in the middle of our political spectrum, but I can’t, and I won’t, because I believe that there is no evidence in support of such an approach. Indeed, the very idea of a “middle” of the political spectrum suggests that there are clearly defined ends of the spectrum which lead to being able to pinpoint a specific middle ground. Since I can’t accept that there are clearly defined limits to the political spectrum, I can’t place the Liberals in its “middle”, because I don’t believe it exists. I can only define the parties in relation to one another on a left-right axis, and through approximation of what I think might be the balance of that axis, can I place the political parties. As a result, the Liberals fall on the right, but I concede that they inhabit a position to the left of the Consevatives.

Let me then end this first blogpost then with my glossary, so that you, my readers, and I might find ourselves on the same page as we move forward, together. My definitions are not meant to be comprehensive, but instead should act as guideposts to this discussion.


Political Terminology

“Left-Right” the political spectrum which arose in the 19th and 20th Century, which we continue to use today as easy short-hand for pinpointing the relative positions of political parties and their supporters between what are perceived as being issues of the left and right. An antiquated descriptive system which we would be best served abandoning in the 21st Century, but one which will likely persist for some time.

“Left” – the historic social democratic left-wing of our political spectrum, championed in Canada politically by the NDP, arising out of the labour movement of the 20th Century.

“Right” – the historic right-wing of our political spectrum, arising out of liberalism and conservatism.

“conservative” – an historic ideology in which change is managed in such a way as to maintain economic stability as much as possible, in pursuit of prosperity.

“neo-conservative” – a political ideology which embraces change to the maintenance of the existing status quo through neo-liberal economics and Conservative politics.

“Conservative” –a political orthodoxy which is motivated to break down most barriers to a hyper-capitalist neo-liberal economy, except for those barriers which favour the wealthy elite. In Canada, Conservative parties include the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party; in the United States, Conservatives are found in both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

“Conservative Party” – a political party consisting of a coalition of neo-conservatives and libertarians.

“libertarian” – a political ideology which places the value of individualism above all else.

“Liberal Party” – a political party consisting largely of Conservatives influenced by liberal ideology.

“liberal” – a political ideology in which change is encouraged in pursuit of economic growth and prosperity, in balance with ideas related to social justice and equity.

“New Democratic Party (NDP)” – a political party which has evolved from the social justice and labour movements, which now largely embraces liberal political ideology.

“green” – an ideology which has at its heart the notion of sustainability and the long-term welfare of our physical environment.

“Green Party” – a political party consisting of liberals and greens which stands in opposition to neoliberal economics.

Economic Terminology

“capitalism” – the historic trade-based economic system of market-place transactions from which our 20th Century hyper-capitalist system has evolved.

“hyper-capitalism” – our current debt-based global economic system which requires economic growth and confidence for its continuance.

“neoliberal” – an economic ideology which embraces hyper-capitalism and values economic growth and the manufacture of confidence above all other considerations.

“green economy” – a co-opeartive, community-based capitalist economic ideal which has at its heart the notion of sustainability, powered by renewable energy, and in contrast to the hyper-capitalist economic system.

Change Terminology

“incremental” – change which is slow, planned or unplanned; often deemed by conservatives to be politically palatable. Example: in Canada, the acceptance of gay marriage was incremental, as it moved in small steps from homosexuality being illegal, to legality, public acceptance, tax equity to full scale constitutional protection.

“transitional” – modest planned change which moves from one system into another. Example: Windows users transition from one platform to another.

“transformational” – significant, but not systemic, planned or unplanned, change which truly transforms the conduct of business, sometimes with unexpected consequences. Example: the introduction of the Euro was a transformational change; the earthquake in Haiti forced a transformational change in society.

“reformational” – systemic planned change of entire systems which leads to the creation of a new paradigm. Often, reformational changes are implemented from positions of power. Example: at the end of the Second World War, Japan underwent a reformational change. Also, in the 1500s, German principalities embraced Protestantism and rejected Roman Catholicism – the “Reformation”.

“revolutionary” – systemic, unplanned, change, which leads to the creation of a new paradigm. Revolutionary change is instituted from the bottom up, and are often association with power struggles. Examples: the French and Russian revolutions; the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions.


In Part 2 of this series, I'll look more closely at the nature of change, particularly as it pertains to necessary changes to our economic and political systems in the 21st Century, and what this means for the “new left”.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Feds Spend Tax Money to Justify Northern Gateway Pipeline Project

The following text has been modified slightly from text which was recently submitted as a letter to the Editor of a local newspaper with general circulation in Greater Sudbury. At this time, it remains unpublished.


This past August, when asked about the approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the media that, “The government does not pick and choose particular projects; the projects have to be evaluated on their own merits.” Initially, those statements seemed to be in keeping with the National Energy Board’s joint panel review of Northern Gateway. However, it has come to light since then that the government has already determined Northern Gateway to be a “winner”, and has in fact spent approximately $100 million in taxpayers money to assist with the scientific review of Northern Gateway’s viability.

Andrew Weaver, British Columbia’s recently elected Green MLA, and Elizabeth May, MP, and Leader of the Green Party of Canada, recently revealed documents which show that the government has been conducting studies on the environmentally-sensitive northern B.C. coast. These studies will provide new scientific information regarding two matters which would be important for the future of bitumen transport: the safety of oil tanker traffic exiting the port of Kitimat, which is the designated terminus of Enbridge’s bitumen pipeline; and the behavior of bitumen spills in coastal waters. What these studies mean is that Canadian taxpayers are now assisting a multinational corporation worth billions of dollars in making its case for pipeline approval to the National Energy Board.

Normally, it is the proponent’s responsibility to make a case for an industrial project to an environmental review tribunal. Part of that responsibility includes the absorption of costs for studies. In the case of Northern Gateway, as Enbridge is relying on tankers exiting the port of Kitimat through the narrow Hecate Strait, one might have assumed that Enbridge would have picked up the tab for undertaking necessary safety and oil spill studies. But that’s not what is happening. Instead, our government has bullishly charged ahead, spending scarce taxpayers resources in the process, and doing Enbridge’s work for them. All of this at a time when scientific endeavours are being downsized throughout the nation.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has suggested that there isn’t anything wrong with the government helping Enbridge out, and that it is prudent to fund studies about tanker safety. What Minister Oliver fails to understand is that if there was no Enbridge proposal on the table, there would be no need to assess tanker traffic safety in the Hecate Strait, because the only reason tankers would have to be in the Strait in the first place would be to haul bitumen away from the Enbridge pipeline. No pipeline, no tankers, no need for a study.

Why then is our government spending tax dollars on tanker traffic studies for a private industrial project which might never happen? In response to Weaver and May, Minister Oliver reportedly stated that, “While the Green Party…oppose(s) resource development before the science is in, our government will not make decisions until an independent, scientific review determines they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.” Unfortunately, the actions of the government completely give lie to Minister Oliver’s, and the Prime Minister’s, words. It’s clear that the government has already made decisions and taken action by spending millions on studies to justify one specific pipeline, rather than acting as an independent, impartial reviewer.

Significant questions regarding government interference will now hang over the National Energy Board’s decision on the Northern Gateway project, which is expected later this year. If our government has already earmarked over $100 million to justify the project, can we really expect an impartial decision from the government-appointed review tribunal? Has the review process become nothing more than a public relations charade?

It is reprehensible that the government which we entrust to look after our hard-earned taxes would misuse our money to fund studies to help a multibillion dollar corporation make a case for a project which may never happen. It is clear that when it comes to economic stewardship, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is not acting in the best interests of hard-working Canadians.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Nomination Meeting's Dirty Laundry Continues to Cling to NDP

Why does the provincial NDP seem intent on tearing itself apart over the now-dated Adam Giambrone nomination meeting scandal? With 5 provincial by-elections in the rear-view mirror, and the NDP making a decent showing, winning 2 (including one big upset in London), what’s the point now for NDP insiders to be making a big fuss over the failed Scarborough-Guildwood candidate, Giambrone?

Today, the Toronto Star reports today that riding President Viresh Raghubeer will continue to pursue the matter of delegates unknown to the riding association showing up at the nomination meeting and being permitted to vote by central party officials (see: "Adam Giambrone nomination controversy not over yet, says NDP riding president", the Toronto Star, September 6 2013). I wrote about this earlier (“NDP’s Anti-Democratic Practices – Not Corruption – Probably to Blame for Giambrone Nomination", July 16 2013, and “The Latest in the Adam Giambrone Scarborough-Guildwood Nomination Meeting Scandal”, July 19 2013), and concluded that due to the New Democratic Party’s anti-democratic practice of forcing members to join both the provincial and federal parties, it was likely the case of “unknown” delegates having been entered into one database and not the other. And then a matter of communication breakdown between federal and provincial wings in the admittedly tight timeframes to host a nomination meeting.

According to the Star, NDP President Neethan Shan confirmed my suspicion, reporting:

“As in any nomination meeting…there are usually people who come in and their names may not appear on the list that [was] provided to the riding association for various reasons,” Shan said, adding that all 12 checked out on the Party’s central database.

So, that should be the end of the controversy, no? NDP Leader Andrea Horwarth showed significant interest in candidate Giambrone during the by-elections, campaigning by his side and claiming that he would be the best person to represent the voters of Scarborough Guildwood. Of course, long time NDP supporter, 90 year-old Joy Taylor, wasn’t convinced, as she reportedly tore up her membership card and wrote an 8-page letter to Party’s Executive, complaining of a “rigged” nomination process.

Apparently, riding President Raghubeer remains unconvinced as well, despite Shan’s explanation. The Star reports Raghubeer saying, “Too many people are afraid to speak truth to power,” and that he is preparing to do battle with the Party Executive. Raghubeer claims that the Party has yet to provide the riding association with its promised explanation. Apparently, remarks made by President Shan directly to the media aren’t enough to appease Raghubeer and the riding association. Perhaps Raghubeer is relying on the contents of Joy Taylor’s letter to the Executive, in which Taylor indicated that some of the 12 unknown delegates present at the nomination contest didn’t even live in the riding.

Of course, if any of the 12 unknowns didn’t live in the riding, it would completely contradict what Neethan Shan is on record as indicating to the media: all 12 checked out. So it’s clear that Joy Taylor is wrong and the Party Executive is right – and probably for the reasons that I speculated in my original blogpost. Of course, I live in Sudbury, and Taylor lives in Scarborough and has lived there for quite some time, and was probably present at the nomination meeting (I sure wasn’t), so I can understand why some might be more willing to give her the benefit of the doubt than me. But NDP President Shan has said otherwise – so Taylor must be wrong.

So if Raghubeer is relying on Taylor’s analysis of where the 12 lived, or if he has his own information which suggests that some or all of the 12 unknown delegates lived outside of the riding when they voted in the nomination contest, it’s clear that he must be wrong too, according to NDP President Shan. Raghubeer should come clean about what he knows about the 12 – on what basis is he now pursuing this matter with the NDP Executive? Shan’s provided the riding association with an explanation (although perhaps not in the format Raghubeer might have expected, speaking directly to the media instead of politely with the riding association). Why the vendetta?

With the Ontario NDP doing well in recent public opinion polls, why does this one riding association think it’s in their Party’s interests to get to the bottom of what they believe (erroneously, obviously, according to the Party President) was a “rigged” nomination contest? Joy Taylor believes that there is evidence of “the beginnings of decay, that if allowed to spread will destroy the party”. Maybe others in the NDP share her concerns, but it according to the polls, it appears that voters largely aren’t interested in whether the internal operations and processes of a political party are democratic or not.

Increasingly, some would suggest that it’s not clear that healthy democratic operations and processes in general, are particularly important to Canadians. We allow our elected officials a certain latitude these days which past generations would not have tolerated. Party Leaders rule with iron fists, and swaying public opinion matters more than does following a democratic process. With this worldview in mind, it’s clear that former Toronto city councillor Adam Giambrone was a much better candidate than whomever it was he opposed in that nomination meeting, as a by-election offers so very little time to introduce a fresh-faced candidate to voters. Andrea Horwath and the Central Party Executive must have known this. Perhaps it was the controversy kicked up by the riding association (and frankly, the lack of forthcoming information from the Central Party) which led to Giambrone’s disappointing third place finish.

Of course, not everyone subscribes to that worldview. Especially those who cling to the notion that the NDP is a Party which does politics differently, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Sure, it’s taken two months for the Central Party to now confirm that all 12 delegates lived in the riding, but recall that Party officials had confirmed to the media much earlier that everyone who voted was deemed “eligible” – and that wasn’t good enough for the riding association. Doesn’t the NDP riding association understand what its real purpose is in the NDP? Clearly, in their continual pursuit of this matter, they just don’t get it. They seem to be operating in that old NDP paradigm which valued integrity and process over electability and spin.

Of course, this particular notion which some political operatives believe to be "old fashioned" or "quaint" isn't just one which continues to afflict members of the NDP. I'm sure that there are some Liberals who believe their Leader Justin Trudeau, too, when he says that Liberal Party nominations will be open and democratic – despite all of the evidence to the contrary currently on display in the Toronto Centre by-election nomination, in which the Liberals have all but confirmed the coronation of the Leader’s chosen candidate, Chrystia Freeland.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the NDP’s nomination meetings aren’t open and democratic – certainly, the federal NDP race in Toronto Centre appears to be. Provincially, here in Sudbury, there are a number of excellent candidates vying to represent the NDP in the next election, all of whom have local name recognition. Even the Scarborough-Guildwood meeting appears to have been open and democratic, albeit more so in hindsight than at the time, if you take Shan at his word. But really, in the case of Scarborough-Guildwood, a critical riding which the NDP would have loved to pick up from the Liberals, you had a situation where one candidate had broad name recognition and had proven himself to be electable, and the other candidate had neither (although perhaps she had more riding members who supported her). What did Taylor, Raghubeer and others think the NDP was going to do in that circumstance? Not value winning over everything else?

No. In Scarborough-Guildwood, the NDP behaved as the NDP does: putting the electoral success of the Party ahead of everything else.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)