You will find a letter of mine in today’s National Post enumerating the many benefits of proportional representation. In order to read it, please click here and scroll down to the second last entry (or see the last entry in the print edition) under the heading “PR delivers the goods.”
I have a letter on The Vancouver Sun’s website (online only, it would appear) replying to a ridiculous op-ed piece that blames the high cost of housing on “mass immigration.” My response is restrained in both tone and word count, but suffice it to say I disagree with the op-ed writer’s argument. To read my letter, click here and scroll down to the second entry, under the heading “Massive investment in affordable housing needed.”
In the midst of a campaign dominated by horse races and attack ads, by fear and scandal and appeals to our basest political instincts, it is easy to forget that elections are meant above all to be about policy. Which party offers the kindest, most equitable, and most sustainable vision for the country?
The answer, in my opinion, is clear. Here I present six important ways that the Green Party of Canada is the most progressive of our major national parties.
Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation, one that is inextricably linked to our well-being and survival, yet politicians typically treat it as some trifling matter to be addressed only when there is nothing more pressing on the agenda. For the Green Party, however, climate considerations are central.
The party’s platform calls for Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 and 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. Vision Green, the party’s in-depth policy document, speaks of even steeper reductions. Much of the heavy lifting for this program of cuts would be performed by a carbon fee and dividend system (a form of carbon tax), set at the admittedly paltry rate of $30 per tonne, but projected to rise over time. The only other party calling for a federal price on carbon is the NDP, but its cap-and-trade policy is sorely lacking in detail. There is no way of knowing, based on the information thus far provided, how stringent or comprehensive the NDP plan would be.
On pipelines, Liberals and New Democrats, to their credit, both oppose Northern Gateway, but they can’t seem to make up their minds on Trans Mountain and Energy East. The Liberals support Keystone XL, while the NDP rejects it. Only the Greens take a principled stance against all pipelines meant to export raw bitumen, pledging to halt oil sands expansion and to shift our economy towards renewable energy and sustainable jobs.
While reasonable questions can be raised about the Green Party’s insistence on revenue neutrality when it comes to carbon taxes, there is no doubt that its fee and dividend plan is on balance progressive. Revenue produced by the “fee” is meant to be returned to all Canadians as an equal per capita “dividend.” Since people with low incomes would pay less on average than those with high incomes (due to lower greenhouse gas emissions), they would tend to get more out of the system than they put into it. The result would be a modest redistribution from rich to poor.
Additionally, the Greens pledge in their budget overview to eliminate income taxes on those making less than $20,000 per year, to reintroduce a tax on inheritances greater than $1,000,000, and to raise the corporate rate from 15 to 19 per cent (leapfrogging the NDP’s 17 per cent). Some of the projected increase in revenue would go towards the party’s vaunted Guaranteed Livable Income (also known as a negative income tax), a proposed increase to and consolidation of various federal and provincial assistance programs aimed at ensuring that no Canadian lives in poverty.
In an era when the battle against free trade and investor protection agreements has largely been abandoned, the Greens are the only major party still willing to fight the good fight.
The Liberal Party has supported trade liberalization treaties ever since notoriously breaking its 1993 election promise to pull Canada out of NAFTA. Even the NDP, in recent years, has dropped its principled opposition, preferring to assess trade agreements on a case-by-case basis (yes to Jordan and South Korea, maybe to CETA, no to the recently signed TPP).
The Greens, by contrast, stand unequivocally on the side of fair rather than free trade. Party leader Elizabeth May has been one of the country’s most passionate voices in opposition to the FIPA with China. Vision Green even goes so far as to suggest providing the requisite six months’ notice to withdraw from NAFTA as a means of pushing for renegotiation on more favourable terms.
4. Post-secondary education
Dozens of countries around the globe, across both the developed and the developing world, offer free post-secondary education. For the most part, this is considered a non-starter here in Canada. Alas, it is once again only the Greens who favour the complete abolition of tuition fees. They also promise to cancel existing student debts over $10,000.
5. War and peace
Non-violence is one of the six fundamental principles of the Green Party of Canada. The principle was put on dramatic display in 2011 when, barely a month after she was elected, Elizabeth May took a stand in the House of Commons, providing a lone vote of dissent against Canada’s continued participation in NATO’s war on Libya. Given the ongoing disaster still unfolding as a result of our intervention, May’s foresight deserves be acknowledged.
The Green Party is by no means anti-capitalist, but by questioning the ideology of infinite growth, it goes farther than either the NDP or the Liberals in undermining the most destructive foundation of our economic system. Vision Green explicitly calls for a steady-state economy and a reduced work week, stating, “Continued exponential growth is counter to the realities of a finite planet.”
None of this prevents the party from speaking the language of “smart growth” and “sustainable growth” when convenient. Perhaps this apparent contradiction reflects a distinction between short-term and long-term objectives. Nevertheless, in the current political climate, any willingness to broach the subject of limits to growth is a rare feat.
Some hedging …
The Greens are not perfect on every issue. Regrettably, it is only the Liberals who favour a rise in the personal tax rates of the top one per cent. And the NDP, in addition to having a more fleshed-out child care policy, has set a short-term greenhouse gas reduction target that is marginally more ambitious than the Green Party’s.
However, on most issues, Elizabeth May and her running mates occupy a place in the political landscape that we would be foolish to overlook. To expect them simply to disappear — to roll over and die in the face of deliberate mischaracterizations and short-sighted appeals to strategic voting — is neither realistic nor desirable. They fill a hole in the national conversation and challenge us to demand more from other parties.
If the NDP and the Liberals truly want to defang the Greens, they could start by adopting their policies.
This posts appears on rabble.ca.
Greetings loyal blog readers! I am happy to report that today’s Toronto Star contains a letter of mine (the first of the two on this page) about the Ontario Court of Appeal decision on expat voting rights. Rather than address this issue directly, I briefly examine the related matter of extending the franchise to non-citizens who live in Canada. Enjoy!
Well, anybody could have called this one.
According to a new survey by Insights West, 53 per cent of residents plan to vote No in the upcoming 2015 Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite. Only 38 per cent say they will vote Yes to the proposed half-percentage-point sales tax increase to help fund more buses, new rapid transit lines, improved walking and cycling networks, road and bridge upgrades, and more.
The once mighty Yes campaign’s decline is a regrettable development, but no one can honestly claim to be surprised. Though referendums can be useful exercises, they are out of place on matters such as public transit where the impacts of present-day decisions are borne in large part by future generations. Voters risk falling victim to the myopic lullabies of anti-tax zealots and their assorted useful idiots. Provincial and municipal representatives would have done well simply to sit down together and hammer out a fair cost-sharing arrangement.
But it’s too late for that now. For better or for worse, the provincial Liberals made a cheap pledge during an election which everyone expected them to lose, and we’re stuck with this plebiscite as a result. Mail-in ballots are on their way next month. It is therefore crucial, for reasons of social and environmental justice, that we do all we can to beat the odds and secure a win for the Yes side.
Is TransLink the problem?
So why, one might ask, is the delightfully named “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax” proving so unpopular? Apart from the reflexive mantra of “we hate taxes,” two primary reasons come to the fore. The first is the reputed wastefulness and unaccountability of TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation authority.
It is true that the organization suffers a democratic deficit, a convoluted governance structure, and bewildering levels of executive compensation. Moreover, the roll-out of the new Compass fare card system has been disastrous, and recent high-profile service shutdowns on the SkyTrain have not made matters any easier.
It is a mystery, however, why anyone would believe that voting No could solve these problems. High-level decision-makers and bureaucrats are not “punished” when denied the ability to implement sensible policies. They are neither fired nor forced to take pay cuts. On the contrary, the only effect is to punish the general public by worsening our transit system’s dysfunctionality in a time of rapid population growth. The poor in particular would suffer through this act of sabotage to one of the cheapest means of getting around. All this in addition to further increases in air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and traffic congestion.
It is also worth noting that while any waste is indefensible — public bodies must always strive to improve their efficiency — the items commonly cited as examples of TransLink’s storied wastefulness add up to a mere fraction of one per cent of its annual expenditures. In other words, the vast majority of the organization’s budget goes to the vital public services we rely upon it to provide. So let’s keep matters in perspective, shall we?
Are sales taxes the problem?
A second concern for some segments of the No team is the kind of taxation being considered. Sales taxes, they argue, are regressive, in that they disproportionately impact people with low incomes. If we are to expand public transit services, we should try to do so by means of more progressive alternatives.
So far so good. Indeed, the options are limitless if we allow our imaginations to run wild.
In place of a regional sales tax, perhaps transfers from higher levels of government, which are already anticipated to defray the bulk of the costs, could cover every last dime of transit funding. Personal and corporate income taxes could be raised. So too could the provincial carbon tax, for although it is just as regressive as a sales tax (all else being equal), it at least adheres to the polluter pays principle.
The problem is that not one of these idyllic alternatives is on the table, nor will they magically become so if residents vote No. We are not faced with a choice between several different mechanisms by which to pay for needed transit investments; we are faced with a choice between making those investments and not making them.
A sales tax boost may not be perfect, but as far as tax hikes go, 0.5 per cent is fairly small — amounting to an average of 35 cents per household per day, according to the Yes campaign (or about twice that by the No side’s reckoning). And unlike other sales tax proposals, such as our dearly departed HST, this one is earmarked almost entirely towards public transit, an indisputably progressive cause which benefits people with low incomes and helps to prevent climate destruction.
So what exactly is the problem, Metro Vancouver? Will we succumb, as suggested by the latest poll, to the cynical panderings of “starve the beast” fanatics? Or will we defy the prognosticators and rise to the occasion?
This blogger is not optimistic, but he hopes to be proven wrong.
This post appears on rabble.ca.
A short story I wrote a while back — “Infinitas,” it’s called, about a group of shipwreck survivors who slowly lose touch with reality while trying to forge a new society aboard their life raft — is now available in an anthology of political fiction called Trust and Treachery: Tales of Power and Intrigue, published by Dark Quest Books. Please consider giving it a read.
I had the pleasure last week of attending a public talk called “Women’s Voices: What Difference Do They Make?” featuring Canada’s first and only female prime minister, Kim Campbell.
Appearing at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre campus of Simon Fraser University, the former PM sat down with Shari Graydon of Informed Opinions to discuss women’s participation in government, business, and the media. She spoke with ease and humour about her time in politics, relating such anecdotes as the aura of stunned silence which prevailed when, having recently been promoted to cabinet, she disrupted the old boys’ atmosphere by launching into a graphic elucidation of some of her own personal struggles with birth control; or the way the press hammered her during the 1993 election over such irrelevancies as her choice of earrings, or whether it was wise for her to have made a proclamation she never actually made (i.e. “an election is no time to discuss serious issues”).
The moment I had been waiting for, however, came towards the end when, in response to a question from the audience, Campbell talked about a proposal for electoral reform she had outlined some weeks earlier at a women’s conference in Prince Edward Island. The proposal goes like this: every federal riding would elect two members of parliament — a man and a woman — instead of just one. Thus, the perennially out-of-reach goal of gender parity in the House of Commons would finally be achieved.
The plan is not without its difficulties. It would require either an increase in the number of MPs, a decrease in the number of ridings, or, most likely, some moderate combination of the two. I also worry that with the reintroduction of multi-member districts under what is still a plurality voting system, the problem of disproportionality would be exacerbated. In fact, Campbell herself admitted that gender parity might fit more easily with proportional representation, under which parties could simply be required to alternate female and male names on their party lists.
But it was not minor quibbles such as these which captured the attention of Canada’s newspaper commentariat. By way of critiquing Campbell’s scheme, the National Post’s Kelly McParland writes:
Once a law was passed requiring a woman MP in each riding, there would inevitably be pressure to expand the mandate. Gays have as much right to demand more gay MPs, as do transgendered Canadians, and all the colours of the Canadian sexual rainbow … And if we are to introduce gender quotas, should we not also be making provision for aboriginals, the handicapped or any of dozens of significant ethnic blocks?
Trying to be cheeky, the Toronto Sun’s Adrienne Batra takes it a step further:
Create a special case for female candidates and where does it end?
Special seats for the left-handed? Dog owners? Those suffering from male pattern baldness?
The common thread seems to be that any proposal for gender parity in parliament will open the floodgates to other traditionally oppressed groups demanding fair representation of their own.
And this is a bad thing how, exactly?
Why shouldn’t our elected institutions reflect the broad demographic spectrum of Canadian society? Why shouldn’t we expect our representatives to be, you know, representative? Marginalized communities tend to bring with them lived experiences which differ from those of the rich white males who still largely hold sway. To bring about the greatest possible diversity in public office would benefit not just this or that group, but everyone.
Later on during the question-and-answer session at Campbell’s event, somebody mentioned the recently unveiled Up for Debate campaign, put forward by a coalition of more than 100 organizations calling for a televised leaders’ debate on women’s issues leading up to the 2015 federal election. The proposal has a precedent in the form of a similar debate held 30 years ago, and already, both Elizabeth May and Thomas Mulcair have accepted the challenge to give it another try.
Media coverage has been minimal, but once attention starts to pick up, it is easy to imagine the objections. Why a debate on women, the opinion page contrarians will crow, and not First Nations, LGBT issues, poverty, immigration, or the environment? Won’t other groups expect equal attention? Taken to its logical conclusion, this well-meaning proposal will produce an unstoppable proliferation of televised debates the likes of which a Canadian election has never seen.
As before, I fail to see the downside.
Leaders’ debates are some of the most substantive policy discussions that take place during elections. This is not to say they are perfect — their choreographed, over-rehearsed nature makes them about as stimulating as a Stephen Harper piano recital — but compared to the usual fare of self-congratulatory press conferences and BBQ photo-ops that constitute modern-day electioneering, the debates are practically paragons of intellectual vigour.
We need not fear efforts to raise the political profile of women. To pursue gender parity in parliament, to bring to the electorate’s attention issues like childcare and violence against women — these are just causes in and of themselves. But if these priorities also help to embolden others in their struggles for justice, all that does is make a strong case even stronger.
More than 20 years have passed since Canada’s singular experiment with having a female prime minister. Perhaps the time has come for us to think about giving it another shot.
This post appears on rabble.ca.