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Greens' problems not unique to Canada

Beth Richards — July 1983

“Think globally. act locally” is the catch-phrase for a new voice in Canadian politics — the Green Party of Canada.

Several months ago, while a fledgling British Columbia Green Party prepared to run candidates in the May 5th provincial election, Ted Mousseau, a Vancouver airline pilot, flew across the country using routine lay-overs to contact anyone interested in forming a federal party. The response, says Mousseau, was overwhelming. Within a short time embryonic parties were formed in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and Qu├ębec.

Green Parties have formed already in West Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Sweden and Australia as the peace movement seeks to develop an independent political focus, distinct from the traditional left vs. right orientation.

Peace, ecology and life are what the Green Party of Canada stands for, say its organisers. But ask any NDP, Liberal or Tory supporter and he or she will tell you that their party stands for the same things.

So what is the difference?

According to Trevor Hancock of the Green Party of Ontario. “There is a vertical political axis in addition to the usual horizontal (left vs. right) axis. This vertical axis runs along another political spectrum — that of large- vs. small-scale. In our experience, the Big Left has more in common with the Big Right than the Big Left has in common with the Small Left, and so on.”

Despite their distinction an immediate question raised by the creation of this new party is how the Greens will relate to the NDP. A more fundamental issue is whether the Green Party should exist as a separate party at all. It may simply split the NDP vote.

These problems are not unique to Canadian politics; they have arisen wherever a Green Party has come into existence. In West Germany, the peace movement became thoroughly disillusioned with the SDP before it broke ranks and formed a new party. In Britain, there are so many differing perspectives that the peace movement has cooperated with several different parties whenever possible or necessary. In other words the situation in each country is unique, and the green movement has responded accordingly, cooperating at times, and standing firmly alone at others.

The Green Party of Canada, younger than all the rest, has yet to formulate firm policy, or even so develop a defined party structure. These deficiencies will perhaps he rectified in September when the Greens hold their first general convention.

In the meantime, Green Party organizers hope to attract supporters from all sides of the political spectrum. “We know the NDP seems to be more concerned with environmental issues than the other parties.” said Ontario Secretary Jutta Keylwerth, “but we think you shouldn’t have to be socialist to pursue these goals.” The NDP, say the Greens, has a vested interest in representing labour. The other parties have their vested interests as well. The Greens, by contrast advocate decentralisation of power.

This stance has received its share of criticism. As one Toronto ecologist put it, “Ultimately we all want to decentralize, but to pretend you aren’t aligned with any particular political force is highly idealistic; it doesn’t fit in at all with what’s going on in society.”

Many activists see the Green Party not as a viable political alternative, but rather as the voice of human conscience in Canadian politics. As such, the Green Party may have a valid role to play. In their obsession with day-to-day decision-making, the other parties would do well to get a little prodding from a party concerned with more fundamental human issues.

In B.C., the Greens have run candidates in four provincial ridings. Although they managed to gather only 3,000 votes, they saw their participation in the election as a success.

The Greens don’t seem especially concerned about winning votes in an ‘all-or-nothing’ electoral system. Without the benefit of proportional representation enjoyed by their West German counterparts, the Greens’ prospect of winning parliamentary seats is dismal indeed. But Ted Mousseau is not perturbed. “The process itself.” he says, “the whole way politics is practised in thus country, verges on the immoral. We’re going to try to improve the political process just by virtue of out naivete and innocence.”

We’re not interested in defending a particular quality of life,” says Mousseau. “We’re interested in defending life itself.” Survival is by no means a new concern. But the whole prospect of annihilation has never been as appalling as it is today. As a reflection of an emerging consciousness and a global perspective, the green phenomenon is a welcome element in the political arena. Even if the Greens don’t win in a traditional sense, they may eventually play a valuable role in influencing the policy of traditional parties.