Dear Inroads editors,
The latest fad in critiquing the Green Party seems to be referencing report card grades on the environmental platforms of Canada’s political parties without actually providing the grades themselves (Gord Perks, “The not-so-green Green Party,” Inroads, Summer/Fall 2005).
Readers of Inroads would have been better served by knowing that Greenpeace awarded the Green Party three As and one A-minus, stating in its 2004 election release that “the issue for those concerned with the environment, however, is the grades given to the Liberals and Conservatives.” The Green Party’s platform grade from the Sierra Club was an A. So much for the “not-so-green” moniker that Mr. Perks diligently tried to affix to the Green Party.
And while the Green Party is also pleased by the gold medal our candidates received from the Sierra Club, we believe platform report cards reveal only part of the story. In fact, the Sierra Club’s report card on NDP provincial government performance differs markedly from its report card on the party’s federal election platform.
According to the Sierra Club, NDP governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia have had some of the worst environmental track records in Canada. Under former B.C. Premier Glen Clark, the NDP government was given a D-minus and an F in 1999. The NDP governments of Manitoba and Saskatchewan were each given Ds and Cs between 2001 and 2003.
It’s ironic that Mr. Perks, as an environmentalist, would not want to acknowledge the B.C. NDP government’s decision to carry out “the largest mass arrest of citizens in Canadian history” as a means of enforcing corporate industrial logging of Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, the destruction of B.C.’s salmon fishery and coastal ecosystems with legislated aquaculture industry policies, and the pronouncement by former NDP Premier Glen Clark that “environmentalists are enemies of progress.” Instead of discussing the NDP’s environmental record when it is in government, he offered his appraisal of the current federal leader – as if a political party is only an embodiment of its leader.
He also failed to mention the current contradictions between stated federal NDP policy and the support of its MPs and provincial parties for the importation of toxic waste from New Jersey for incineration in New Brunswick, for the pesticide fogging of residential neighbourhoods in Winnipeg and for the ongoing dumping of raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as well as its support of coal mining in Cape Breton and its multiple, simultaneous positions for and against the oil-and-gas moratorium off B.C.’s west coast.
The truth is that NDP platforms can and do promise the moon. We need only remember Bob Rae’s Ontario election platform in 1990. Provincial NDP government records across Canada testify to how far the party will go to deliver on those promises. Unlike the NDP, the Green Party of Canada is willing to try new and innovative policies used by Green parties in government around the world, as a means to help build an ecologically sustainable society.
Although Mr. Perks is correct in writing that I consult with corporations professionally, I do not shy away from exposing reckless corporate behaviour when it’s warranted. However, the days when corporations could all be tarred with the same brush are over. Unlike the NDP and the Conservatives, the Green Party does not choose to demonize either unions or business. Both play a role in our communities and real progress will be achieved only by engaging both in the development of sustainable solutions.
While I was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party more than two decades ago, under my leadership today the Green Party stands in stark contrast to the Conservative Party. And a disinterested political observer would concede that my conversion from the Progressive Conservatives to the Green Party was far more about principles than about power.
For the record, the Green Party supports gay marriage; we support the right of new Canadians to achieve their dreams and live in a peaceful society that is respectful of their rights; we have taken the strongest position of all parties in defence of public health care; we oppose the war in Iraq and the Anti-Ballistic Missile defence system; and – contrary to what Gord Perks wrote – we respect the fact that we live in a finite world with very real limits. As David Suzuki put it at our policy convention and general meeting last year, “The Greens are the only party that has confronted the reality that there are limits. The Greens are the only party that has done that and I thank you for it.” He called us his “eco-heroes.”
With 5 per cent of the world’s population, North Americans consume one third of the world’s resources. If everyone on the planet consumed as much as we do, we would need another three planets to provide for the energy and material intensity. Clearly that’s not sustainable.
Do we have further to go in some areas of policy development? Yes. But do not doubt our resolve to offer all Canadians a political option that is beholden solely to Canadians. I invite Canadians to visit our website (www.greenparty.ca) and judge for themselves.
— Jim Harris
The Author Replies
I have to wonder whether Mr. Harris read beyond the first few paragraphs of my article – specifically, past the comparison with the NDP. Rather than deal with the fact that Canada’s major environmental groups want more from the Green Party, he attacks his competition. In this, Harris is less a champion of the planet than just another competitive partisan. Perhaps he realizes that a single-issue party that can’t claim leadership on that single issue is a sad spectacle.
Instead of addressing the record of Jack Layton’s federal New Democrats, who recently wrested significant transit and energy efficiency investments out of the federal Liberals, he writes as if he’s running against Glen Clark. I have to ask: who in Canadian politics wouldn’t rather run against Glen Clark?
Harris plays the partisan game of selective recall instead of noting any common ground with the federal NDP. Yes, Clark’s government arrested protesters at Clayoquot Sound. Does it matter that Svend Robinson was arrested at Clayoquot? Does it matter that as leader of the opposition Bob Rae was arrested protecting the Temagami? Harris doesn’t mention his own experience with the Rae government. In 1993 I brought representatives from several environmental organizations (including Harris) with me to meet four Rae cabinet ministers to push for tough regulation of one of Canada’s worst polluters, the pulp and paper industry. Rae passed those regulations. The only North American jurisdiction to publish tougher standards was Mike Harcourt’s NDP government in B.C.
So much for the issues Harris addressed directly. It’s what he skirted that is most troubling. During the 2004 election the Green Party published both a short and a long form of its platform. After several critical pieces (including mine) appeared, the long form was taken off the website that Harris directs readers to. Why won’t Harris acknowledge and defend his detailed platform?
Worse, Harris won’t answer the critique that his pro-market stance undermines environmental progress. Instead, he merely states that under his leadership the Green Party demonizes neither business nor labour. We aren’t talking about choosing flavours of ice cream. The debate is about modes of economic decision-making. Do we rely on price signals and the profit motive (as Harris suggests)? Or, do we use public investment and regulation? Business and labour understand what’s at stake. Big business lobbied against Kyoto, and is currently attempting to prevent improvements to Canada’s Environmental Protection Act. Labour supports environmentalists in these and other areas. In my own career, I’ve enjoyed support for tough environmental campaigns from CUPE, CEP, CAW, USWA, OPSEU, CUPW, ATU, HERE and others.
Canada invests public dollars in education, infrastructure and health because these are areas where working together produces better results than the marketplace. We all have an intimate and urgent stake in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil that produces our food. Taxing commercial access to these common goods neither protects them nor reflects the fact that we all need them.
If Harris can’t coherently defend the centrepiece of his approach, there is no reason for environmentally concerned Canadians to vote Green.
– Gord Perks