Rafe: With May staying on, what’s next for the Green Party?

Photo: Laurel L Russwurm/Flickr
Photo: Laurel L Russwurm/Flickr

Whither the Green Party of Canada after its recent convulsion?

In order to answer that question I think it must be understood, perhaps conceded is the better word, that the Green Party isn’t like other parties and probably never will be. If it struggles to be what it never can be, it will go the way of Technocracy and Esperanto.

The Greens’ dilemma

I have, as you might expect, a Churchhill anecdote which explains what I am on about.

Back in the 1930s, the “Wilderness Years” as they were known, a man approached Churchill and asked him what it was like to be without a power at this critical stage of history.

Churchill growled, as only he could growl, “out of office perhaps – out of power no”.

This is both the strength and the dilemma of the Greens. Almost everybody in our facsimile of democracy wants to be with a winning political party. The fact is that we don’t have a democracy because of the way traditional parties give all power to the leader, creating a chimera of a democracy, papering over the reality of a dictatorship. Happily for the political leaders, their members don’t seem to care and the general public doesn’t seem to understand. These parties often pretend to be “grassroots” parties but they are anything but and the least grassroots of them all the is the tradition-bound NDP.

On the other hand the Green Party is not only grassroots, it’s as “green” as its name implies and doesn’t suit the strange game everyone else has set up. The Green Party is an expression of a change of public philosophy regarding the use of public resources. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to raise a large sums of money from industry or other entrenched interests.

Again, this is good news and bad news. The good part is that their presentations of what the people want are usually pretty close to being accurate. On the other hand, getting elected and doing anything about these issues is well nigh out of the question because developers have all the football songs and the rest of us are stuck with hymns.

One answer to this dilemma is to simply say the hell with it, the system doesn’t want us, we’ll just go with the flow.

That was the prevailing the mood until about 20 years ago when the general public got sick to death of what the established interests were doing to them and the places that they live. They were lied to so often that eventually they could no longer take it and started to ask pointed and serious questions of the great leaders who were bringing them all of these industrial benefits.

Moreover, the rape of the environment moved from being just unpleasant to being outright dangerous. The political landscape changed as many of the”right” moved leftward and the “Left”, noting this, sidled towards the center, a fact very much lost on establishment reactionaries.

That still does not get us past the point where this new movement has difficulty in reflecting ifself politically in the legislatures. The old line parties pay a certain amount of lip-service to more gentleness towards the environment, adding to the Green Party’s fundamental difficulties in gaining access.

Power without office

Here is where the recent contest between certain factions in the Green party and the leader Elizabeth May began and as hopefully ended. It’s almost axiomatic that the less chance a party has to win, the more political rascals want to take it over. In any event, it seems quite clear that Ms. May just survived a coup attempt which had no stronger moralistic basis than a desire of others to get rid of her and take her place.

The basic issue was between those who want to concentrate on gaining power at the expense of philosophy and those, led by Ms. May, who knew and could see from history that “power” and “office” we’re not the same thing. Her obvious determination was inspired by the fact that the Greens in Europe and Australia particularly, were very powerful, even though never in office.

They are accomplishing what the rank and file had wanted to accomplish in the first place – effecting change.

I’ve not spoken to Ms. May on this but I infer from what she has said and done that she realizes power to change is far more important then the trappings of office, where change will usually be thwarted by the establishment in one uniform or another.

It is not easy to keep the foot soldiers in line when there is no immediate reward visible over the horizon. I think, however, that Elizabeth May has made precisely the correct decision in saying that she will remain as a leader for 18 months. That gives the party the opportunity to sort out just what it wants to be and how it will get there.

If the Green party plays to its strength and pushes the boo birds aside, it will become an ever-stronger force for protecting the environment from those who would sell their soul to the highest bidder.

If she were simply to leave now, the basic party would be on death row. There would be little reason to think they could form a traditional kind of party and get into the usual political morass and no reason to believe they could become a party of strong  influence as it is elsewhere.

I wish her luck and hope that I am around long enough to see the end of this movie.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

6 thoughts on “Rafe: With May staying on, what’s next for the Green Party?

  1. Frank seems to have as much trouble understanding my role as with the spelling of my complicated four letter name.

    Frank – I am not a reporter but an editorialist who draws conclusions and tosses them out for debate. From past observations I believe this has all the earmarks of a coup attempt. It was a way to attack the leader without having to do so directly (typical) was not about fundamental party philosophy (typical) would tendentiously bring deep emotions into the debate irrelevant to the party (typical) and would not require the proposers to take any personal positions that could later be claimed to be “unGreen” (typical)

    This does not prove it to be a coup but is a fair prima facie case which is what I get the big bucks to raise.

  2. I’d dare say that the Green Party’s “recent convulsion” would be more appropriately coined “recent revulsion” by most voters……..

    Children attempting to potty train in a toilet for the first time couldnt have “messed” up with more embarassing consequences

  3. Raif writes: “It’s almost axiomatic that the less chance a party has to win, the more political rascals want to take it over. In any event, it seems quite clear that Ms. May just survived a coup attempt which had no stronger moralistic basis than a desire of others to get rid of her and take her place.”

    One is left to presume that the basis of Raif’s “coup attempt” allegation refers to the JNF and BDS resolutions introduced by two party members. If so, Raif should at least provide solid evidence to support his accusation rather than just leaving it hanging there.

    Unproven, Raif’s allegation does, after all, malign the reputation of the two authors of the resolutions, Dimitri Lascaris (BDS) and Corey Levine (JNF), both of whom followed the Green Party’s policy making processes.

  4. Hang in there, Lizzie!! Let the cabalists play sillybuggers with international non-issues, and fight for our own national needs. Come out loud and clear against the fish feedlot industry, help get rid of them while we still have some life left in our oceans… Junior is going to do an about-face on the pipeline issues, and Canadians are going to learn the new PM is just like the old PM but with better hair.

    1. Anne Cameron said, “hang in there, Lizzie!! Let the cabalists play sillybuggers with international non-issues, and fight for our own national needs. ”

      International non-issues. Are you kidding me! The BDS movement is a significant force well worth supporting. The South African apartheid regime was a seemingly unassailable force at one time as well.

      Our then PM Brian Mulroney crossed swords with both US President Ronald Regan and Britains PM Margaret Thatcher to support the economic boycott against
      the South African white minority and Canada was credited with being an important part of that struggle.

      The Boycott, Divest and Sanction effort in support of the beleaguered Palestinians is an honourable and much-needed action.

  5. Strange time with all the opposition leaders as lame ducks. All with about an 18 month shelf life. The delusional and paranoid analyst in me sees a pattern, or at least a prevalent timeline.

    This is very disturbing for the “centre left” in general. Left without any significant progressive anchor the Trudeau liberals risk going full PINO. Progressive in name only.

    Thus far the new government has ushered in little more than a progressive narrative over top of the Harper agenda. With rudderless opposition in every corner the new government will certainly drift even further rightward if only to occupy territory that may one day represent a threat as clearly today no leader on the opposition benches can mount anything remotely close to such a threat for at least two years – virtually ensuring a second term for the Liberals.

    Canada is a better place as a result of the last election to be sure, however substantial course correction is required and without the proper political pressure only strong opposition can apply the notion of a restored Canada on a new progressive path could be very elusive.

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