Part one includes an introduction to this series, an explanation of the “lost years,” and the apologies the next Green Party of Canada leader should make.
Part two includes my three priorities for the next general election.
In part three, I’m will start tackling policy. Admittedly, this might split the room. GPC policy is an emotional subject for many, and I fully recognize what I have to say is perhaps more controversial than what I included in parts one and two.
What’s wrong with GPC Policy
When I joined the GPC in 2006, it had future-focused policies. It would take years for other parties to start discussing similar positions. Greens claimed they had the best policy. My opinion may be tinged with rosy nostalgia, but I agree.
However, GPC policy is not what it once was. Like a dying shopping mall, our anchor stores have moved to new locations, and we have filled the building with increasingly niche stores.
Legal same-sex marriage was an anchor policy but has long since become the law of the land. For a long time, if you wanted to support carbon pricing, the GPC was the only game in town; it has also become law and survived two elections since its passing. It’s the same for legal cannabis. The Liberals have warmed to universal income, and the Ontario Liberals ran a pilot program last time they were in power. The NDP sings from the GPC’s song sheet for many of their positions.
Some may complain that the carbon price isn’t nearly enough, that a GLI beats a UBI, or that the NDP can’t be trusted to implement Green ideas they have failed to each time they’ve held power provincially. They may not be wrong, but these are weak arguments for all but dedicated Greens.
Take the “W”
It is a cause for celebration that planks of Green platforms have become law. Instead, we pout and claim we’d have done it better. But, would we? And why would Canadian voters trust us? The GPC has not implemented government programs or had to find a compromise between our vision and what the public service can implement on a given timeline.
The reality is that an imperfectly implemented carbon pricing system still does more to lower GHG emissions than a perfect system sitting on the shelf. We won, it wasn’t a flawless victory, but this is politics; nothing ever is. Improving carbon pricing should remain a GPC priority, but it’s no longer an anchor policy; it's an enhancement. We still need to replace that anchor.
Single Issue Party
Greens were so afraid of the “single-issue party” attack that they overcorrected. So now we have a laundry list of policies addressing the pet issues of a few dozen students and retirees that comprise the bulk of GPC policy motion participants.
The “Green Book” is how many pages?!
The current “Green Book” is 119 pages long. Imagine the incredible effort to make the formatting consistent and categorize policies correctly. The categories are helpful, but what’s missing is the cohesive philosophy behind Green policies. Greens should have a clear set of values that makes it easy to predict where the party will position itself on any number of issues. Of course, there will always be grey areas, but most positions should flow predictably from a framework of values.
I’m not talking about the values of the Global Greens Charter. They’re lovely, positive statements, but also statements all progressive parties would claim to share. They do not help explain why the Greens would take a different position than the NDP or Liberals on a given issue.
Instead, we have a laundry list of items that stake out positions on issues important to the people with time to submit motions. The book doesn’t (can’t?) do much to show priority, so prominent positions have the same treatment as niche ones. The policies run the gamut from uselessly broad (make the precautionary principle national policy) to maddeningly specific (support the leader (two leaders ago) of the Saskatchewan Green’s efforts to bring attention to a 2016 oil spill.)
Pick a page at random; sooner or later, you’ll run into items that make you question why they would need to be in there. I’ve put a couple of key examples below.
Quick, name two groups of people who don’t care about the GPC’s position on this issue. Okay, now why did you choose Israelis and Palestinians?
There is no more impotent, self-serving GPC policy debate than Israel–Palestine. I’m not diminishing the conflict, just the GPC argument. The GPC’s position has no impact on reality. We don’t have that power, so the entire exercise is divisive and masturbatory.
The GPC doesn’t need a specific Israel–Palestine policy. What we need is a simple, easy-to-understand foreign policy framework. When applied to Israel–Palestine, that framework should lead to the natural conclusion that we support an end to the violence and a two-state solution.
No Whipped Votes
“No whipped votes” is an example of great intentions creating significant side-effects that we have never adequately addressed. On the surface, this policy feels right. It feels like the kind of people-over-party position that Greens support. However, in practice, it’s a kick-me sign come elections.
The problem with our current position is that it’s too easy for other parties (let's face it, the NDP) to paint the party as having a hidden agenda. Any Green on Vancouver Island who worked on the 2019 GPC campaign knows how badly this position hurt. This position, combined with Elizabeth May’s comments about abortion and propping up a Scheer government, was seized upon by the NDP and their third-party allies in mailers and ads across the Island. It wounded the local campaigns deeply.
As long as Greens have this position and express it as they do, the NDP can claim that the GPC has a hidden conservative agenda. They will be able to turn any statement of “we don’t whip votes” into an attack of “voters can’t really know what voting Green means.” They have more money to communicate this message than the GPC has to set the record straight.
We claim to be. We are not. That is all.
Okay, maybe I should expand on that a bit. Many of the GPC’s key positions, which end up in platforms, are somewhat evidence-based. However, the policy book is not a shining example of evidence-based policies, especially as it grows more niche. I think this is primarily an issue of process. Our current policy development process is broken. We need to fix GPC policy, but perhaps even more importantly, we need to improve the process so those policy improvements are not lost as the policy book grows more niche again.
The GPC’s current free-for-all process mixed with meagre participation rates mean that, tragically, GPC policy is less the result of grassroots, participatory democracy and more the output of a hobby horse for a small number of members. These members mean well, and we should celebrate their efforts, but it means individual biases are not well checked, and a cohesive policy book takes a backseat to pet issues.
Okay, that’s enough complaining. In part four, I’ll explain how I would (try to) fix it.
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