By GREG SPENDJIAN
Another election has come and gone. Almost nothing will change as a result. It will continue to be all talk and little action for the Liberal party and Conservative party when it comes to the two major issues facing the country, and indeed the world: the calamity of climate change and rising social and economic inequalities.
I have long believed that a different strategy towards the electorate is needed by the more “progressive” parties in the country, the New Democratic Party and the Green Party. Simply put, they should broaden their appeal by joining forces while at the same time seriously reconsidering their strategies.
The Canadian populace has regrettably not bought into the present narratives of either the NDP or the Green party. Amazingly enough it is the very conservative right-wing People’s Party of Canada which attracted serious additional support going from 1.6 to five per cent of the vote this election. The Green party’s portion of the vote dropped from 6.5 to 2.3 per cent, while the NDP increased its share of the vote slightly, from 16 to 17.8 per cent.
The Green party elected two Members of Parliament. I am fully supportive of the attention the Green party brings to the issue of climate change. But they are by and large a one-issue party, or at least are perceived to be so. What impact will the two MPs have? Virtually none I suspect. The climate catastrophe is here and now. We do not have the luxury of waiting for decades for the number of Green MPs to increase enough for them to become politically relevant.
At one point it was argued that if we had some form of “proportional representation” in our elections rather than the “first past the post” system, a stand-alone Green party would increase the number of MPs elected and thereby be able to influence the policy agenda. With Justin Trudeau having reneged on his promise in 2015 to introduce electoral reform, and with that subject not even being raised during this election campaign, electoral reform is for now a dead issue.
The NDP has some useful policy proposals for dealing with equality and social justice issues, but has never fully addressed climate change and other environmental issues. It does not seem to be able to garner enough support on its own to be an alternative to the two main parties. The party does not have enough seats to accomplish anything other than to support the Liberal party in whatever policies the latter chooses to bring to parliament.
One might speculate on the reasons that the NDP and Greens do not join forces. It has been argued that Green party membership does not really “lean left” at all. Some refer to the fact that our very own Elizabeth May worked in Brian Mulroney’s government as evidence that she and the Green party generally would not support anything that smacked of “democratic socialism.”
The Green party platform says nothing about changes being needed to the economic system, which is at the root of our problems. One political commentator even suggested that many of the lost “green” votes this election went to either the Conservative Party or the PPC. The explanation given is that many “greens” see themselves as “libertarians” and want less overall government intervention rather than more. If this is the case, we are in even more serious trouble than I thought.
The NDP in turn has not shown its full commitment to address climate change comprehensively. It has also not offered a full-throated challenge to the workings of the neo-liberal economic framework. The party shies away from even using the term “social democratic” to describe itself, either because its leadership thinks this might cost the party votes, or because the party really does not question the current system.
And yet, I would defy anybody to put forward a coherent argument that the two meta-problems I identified above — climate change and social and economic disparities — are amenable to solution within the existing socio-economic paradigm. Radical alternatives to our current systems of production of goods and services and the distribution of benefits of economic activity need to be invented, tested and broadly adopted. This is the only way for us to move towards a better future, one characterized by social, economic and ecological well-being.
The NDP and the Green party need to have the courage to both re-imagine themselves and to join forces as part of a new political strategy. They should form a new party, one which is radical, green, participatory and social democratic. Such a party would, in my view, stand a better chance of offering and promoting viable and relevant solutions to our biggest problems than the existing stand-alone parties will ever have.
The writer is a Salt Spring resident.