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Canada's Greens hold founding convention

Roy McFarlane — December 1983

OTTAWA — “I’m here because I believe the planet is on the brink of extinction,” said Philip Burpee, a Nova Scotian delegate to the founding convention of the Green Party of Canada, held in Ottawa, November 4th to 6th.

The three day convention, set up by organisers to discuss and decide the structure, policy and constitution of a federal Green Party, often proved chaotic and frustrating for the 181 delegates.

“It is extremely difficult to set up a meeting of a large group of people, from all over Canada, and with many different perspectives, when many haven’t had a lot of organising experience,” said Susan Berlin at the end of the three-day meeting. Berlin, from Toronto, received a round of applause for her efforts in chairing the hour and a half Friday night session on the agenda.

Although delegates were only able to decide on a loose definition of their structure (the Greens voted to create a federation of provincial and regional chapters), the issues the Green Party would take to a future general election were touched on in policy papers and discussions. Various delegates spoke of conserver economics, decentralized decision making, disarmament and environmental protection.

The relationship between the Green Party and the New Democratic Party is an issue of concern to both parties. According to Gerry Caplan, Federal Secretary of the NDP has no official stand on the Greens, but commented, “The little I know of the concept of decentralised decision-making I find naive and innocent. I have yet to see a thoughtful exposition (by the Green Party) on a conserver society.

“As for disarmament and environmental protection, on the one hand the NDP welcomes anyone who promotes these issues, as we believe in them very strongly, but I fear (the Greens) could hurt us in elections where we are strong where that percentage of the vote could lose the riding for us,” Cap/an said.

Annette Ruitenbeek, a Calgary delegate to the Green convention said she wouldn’t want to see “a Green run against a good NDP candidate, but at the same time I have a concern that the NDP does not appeal to me. I hope that (the formation of the Green Party) encourages the NDP to re-evaluate the platform they have built up over the years and decide what kind of party they are going to be. Are they a party of the left, with policies consistent with that, are they an alternative type party, Social Democrat? Right now, I don’t think they’re very different from the Liberals or the Conservatives.”

Betty Nickerson, 61, ran as a Green candidate in the August Mission-Port Moody by-election. “I wondered what I could do for my grandchildren that would matter more than that.” She said her candidacy allowed her to travel through her riding to “suggest positive solutions to the local problems people faced.”

“I was insisting that communities have the right to decide their own priorities.” Nickerson specifically mentioned two idle dams and three empty industrial parks in her riding. “I suggested we collect the estimated 750,000 million, wrecked cars, barge them up the Fraser River into one of the industrial parks, restart those idle dams, and by electrolysis, separate them back into their metal components. Then we’ll start developing industries using these things or sell the metals that accrue from that.” She said since her campaign she is still invited to speak on various subjects to local groups.

Wilhelm Knabe, one of the founding members of the West German Green Party, came to Ottawa to address the Green Party convention “because we are glad to find friends (in North America), friends who will help us deny the accusation that the Greens are anti-American. We are pro-human, and for that reason come into contact with governments who want to establish new weapons.”

Knabe referred to his observation of an underlying theme throughout the three day convention, drawing on his experience in Germany. “There will always be tension between a Green Party and a Green movement. But without a party there are certain things the movement cannot do, and without a movement, the party is nothing. A Green party without a Green movement is like a river running through a desert; eventually it will dry up and die.” he said.

Canadian Green Party members had filed an application for registration of the party with the government prior to the convention. According to Elections Canada, all that remains for official recognition of the new party is the fielding of at least 50 candidates in the next federal election.