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.