An Open Letter to Elizabeth May Regarding BDS

File:Mauer-betlehem.jpgDear Elizabeth May,

Please don’t resign over Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

Far from being “polarizing, ineffective and unhelpful,” the BDS movement seeks to employ moderate, non-violent means (i.e. boycotts and other economic measures) to pressure Israel to end its decades-long occupation of Palestinian land. Originating in 2005 with a call to action by 170 grassroots Palestinian organizations, the campaign seeks to emulate tactics that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. For the Green Party of Canada to pass a resolution supporting this cause puts us on the right side of history.

Let us further dispense with the juvenile notion, peddled by some of the more inflammatory segments of the Canadian media (but thankfully not you), that BDS or any other criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey routinely (and rightly) face condemnation over their human rights records without the debate being lowered by facile charges of Islamophobia. Similarly, objections to American foreign policy are not dismissed out of hand for displaying anti-Christian bias. Many supporters of BDS are themselves Jewish, such as the members of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (as well as yours truly), and find allegations of bigotry so frivolously tossed about to be offensive.

I understand that my letter will likely not convince you to embrace a movement that you seem so profoundly opposed to, but at the very least, I urge you to stay on as leader even if you do not approve of every single one of your party’s policies. Surely we are strong enough to withstand a little internal disagreement. Such is the nature of an open and democratic organization. Furthermore, the resolution in question is so broadly worded as to give the party considerable leeway with respect to implementation.

So please walk back your threat to reevaluate your future with the Greens. You are a fine leader and a major asset to the party, just as the party is an asset to Canada’s political discourse. The media fracas will die down if we allow it to do so. We must not let our differences get in the way of building a just, peaceful, and sustainable world.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Six Ways That the Greens Are Canada’s Most Progressive Party

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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.

1. Climate

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.

2. Taxes

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.

3. Trade

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.

6. Growth

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.

A Multi-Partisan Approach to Environmental Protection

I am a strong believer in the Green Party. It plays an essential role. Environmentalists cannot afford to patiently wait around for traditional parties to see the light and pass the necessary laws to avert catastrophe.

That being said, Canadians have been slow to embrace the Green Party, and that slowness has been magnified by an unfair and unrepresentative electoral system. The Greens’ single-member delegation in the House of Commons — a triumph in its own right — is too small a basket for environmentalists to consolidate all our eggs. And in the face of the slowly unfolding plans of Stephen Harper’s majority government to eviscerate environmental regulations in Canada (the “streamlining” of the assessment process that I’ve written about before was just a start), we need to try something new.

Green leader Elizabeth May, with the help of any other MPs concerned about the environment, needs to create a multi-partisan Environmental Caucus in the House of Commons — somewhat akin to the (misleadingly named) Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, or the various congressional caucuses in the US and all-party parliamentary groups in the UK. It would be considerably less “official” and more “activist” than the House’s Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. Open to MPs from all parties, this informal caucus could potentially present the most formidable and unified challenge to Harper’s radically anti-environmental agenda. If joined by a handful of green-leaning Conservatives, it could even sow the seeds of division within the governing party. (Please allow my indulgence in fantasy. It’s all I’ve got!)

Might this strategy result in the appropriation of my beloved Green Party’s values and the stealing of its political thunder? It’s possible — especially if the strategy is successful. But environmentalists’ allegiance is to the planet, not to any party, and at the moment this represents our best path forward. We cannot wait another three years to boot the bastards out. The environment needs parliamentary protection against a short-sighted and power-hungry executive right now.

How to Win

This is a seating plan of the Canadian House o...

Amidst the cacophony of Harper government threats — seemingly a new one each week — to dismantle what remains of Canada’s proudest progressive achievements, there can be heard a faint buzz of debate in centre-left circles on what to do about it. Some of these voices even dare to suggest that perennial political non-starter — cross-party cooperation. (Don’t they know this is Canada? Leave coalitions to those unholy socialists in Europe!)

The latest timid foray into this territory comes courtesy of youth-flavoured democracy group Leadnow.ca. It has begun polling its members on whether or not it should call on New Democrats, Liberals, and Greens to work together in the next election to defeat select Conservative incumbents and, assuming they succeed, reform the country’s electoral system. This idea of an ad hoc pre-election alliance is far more attractive than the common proposal for a merger of the parties. The NDP, Liberal Party, and Green Party, despite their occasional common ground (and commoner enemy), each have distinguished histories and represent different ideologies and concerns. To permanently paper over these distinctions and create an American-style two-party system would diminish the political choice and diversity on offer to Canadian voters.

But wouldn’t a limited electoral alliance do the same thing — albeit on a smaller scale? Wouldn’t there be some ridings in which voters are denied the full range of progressive options? The short answer is yes, but only as a temporary measure. If the three parties manage to form a coalition government and put in place a new electoral system that eliminates vote-splitting, then they can go back to fully competing against each other in all subsequent elections without handing victory after victory to a Conservative Party voted against by a consistent 60 to 70 percent of Canadians. And let us not underestimate the lack of voter choice represented by our first-past-the-post electoral system and the incentives it provides to “strategically” ignore parties we may agree with the most in deference to those we hate the least.

The major hurdle on the way to cooperation will be convincing those involved. The Greens will probably be the easiest, considering Elizabeth May’s history of openness to such ideas, as in her 2007 non-competition agreement with then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion. In the current NDP leadership race, however, only second-tier candidate Nathan Cullen supports joint nominations with the Liberals and Greens in some ridings, a crime for which his fellow contenders, normally loathe to criticize each other publicly, have attacked him (although not too harshly — they are still brothers and sisters after all).

I can understand NDP hesitancy towards any rapprochement with the Liberals. As is often noted, the latter have a long history of campaigning like New Democrats and governing like Conservatives. But just as commonly observed is the uncharacteristic good behaviour of Liberal governments held to account by constructive partnerships with the NDP. Canada’s health care and pension systems are testaments to the positive influence that progressive parties can have on the Liberals, just as the Harper government’s current moves to turn the clock back on these very accomplishments are testaments to the effects of division in the centre-left ranks.

The Liberals will likely be hardest of all to sway. To convince the people only recently considered Canada’s “natural governing party” to cooperate with those most responsible for their downfall is like asking Americans not to resent the growing economic might of soon-to-be-superpower China.

Moreover, at their recent convention, Liberals endorsed the alternative vote electoral system, whereas Greens and New Democrats have a long-established preference for proportional representation. How do they find common ground on this front? Ideally, in the event that they form government, the three parties could hold a national referendum asking voters to make the choice between electoral systems for them. And even if the Liberals succeed in convincing Canadians to choose the far inferior reform of the alternative vote, it would at least be just as effective as proportional representation at eliminating vote splitting, and would thus vindicate the NDP-Liberal-Green alliance.

So what are we waiting for, progressives? Why are we so afraid of cooperation? Just one pre-election deal to work together, form a coalition government, and ditch first-past-the-post; and Harper’s Conservatives are history. We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win.

(New Democrats, please explain that line to the Liberals.)

Update 09/02/2012: Leadnow.ca has now moved beyond internal polling, and has set up an online petition open to the public. Please sign it!

Electoral Reform — the Wrong Way

Distributing copies of the Canadian Charter of...

The Quebec-based group l’Association pour la revendication des droits démocratiques is nearing the end of the legal battle it started in 2004.  After early losses in the lower courts, it is taking its case against Quebec’s (and by implication Canada’s) first-past-the-post electoral system to the nation’s Supreme Court, with the backing of Fair Vote Canada and Green leader Elizabeth May.  It will argue, with some justification, that first-past-the-post violates the “democratic rights” and “equality rights” provisions (sections 3 and 15) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I am reluctant to admit this — both as a strong supporter of proportional representation and as a Green Party member — but I think this is the wrong approach.  While it is true that there is evidence in some opinion polls of vague support for electoral reform in Canada, every time a concrete question is placed on a referendum ballot, proportional voting systems seem to lose their popularity.  I understand that this is frustrating, but it would be unfair for proportional representation advocates, having failed to convince the public, to turn around and sneak their changes in through the judicial back door.  Societies have a right to any electoral system of their choosing, and at the very least, ours has not yet made up its mind.

In 2003, a small number of Quebec sovereigntists proposed the abandonment of their longstanding call for a referendum on independence, preferring instead to read the election of a Parti Quebecois majority government as a sufficient mandate for secession.  The mainstream of the sovereignty movement swiftly rejected this idea, understanding that the principle of independence by referendum had always been at its heart.  There is something admirable in this recognition that there is a right way to go about achieving change, and a wrong way.

I never thought I’d say this, but electoral reformers could learn a thing or two from Quebec separatists.