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Can Green Parties Stay Green?

By Stuart Hertzog
September 20th, 2008

Drifting away from Green principles as support rises in the polls

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”

— Albert Einstein

Harris-Decima national Canadian voting intentions September 20, 2008

VICTORIA, BC — Success brings its own rewards, and a whole new set of problems. As poll after poll shows public support for the Green Party of Canada rising steadily to between 10% and 12% nationally and up to 15% here in BC, the tension between possible electoral success and the party’s set of basic Green political values becomes even more apparent.

For the first time, and in no small measure due to the adroitness of party leader Elizabeth May and her ability to present a fresh and uncontrived face to the Canadian public and Canada’s corporate media, the Green Party has emerged as the fifth political player on the national scene.

But May’s recent stumble in accepting former West Vancouver Liberal MP Brent Wilson as Canada’s first ‘Green’ MP in order to leverage a place in the 2008 national party leaders’ debate, points to a deeper problem than just a minor mistake due to political inexperience.

Newer shades of Green

The rising fortunes of Canada’s Green parties are attracting a whole new breed of member, from disaffected former Red Tories who didn’t like Reform’s brand of extreme conservatism; through green Liberals disgusted with their party’s sleazy past; through environmentalist NDPers; to a new generation of younger voters making their first independent decision about their political allegiance.

The problem is that the overwhelming majority of new Green Party members have no knowledge or understanding of core Green philosophy. I often think that most aren’t even aware of it, even though it is written into their party’s constitution as the Ten Key Values of the Global Greens Charter.

I’ve come to realise that many are content to believe that the Green Party supports the environment as a core value, and that’s good enough. Where they aren’t Blue-Green (I call them the Turquoisie), their green is a lighter shade than the much deeper green of the party’s core values set up by its founders.

Rule of political ecology

Although I’ve been pointing to Canadian Green parties as examples, the same holds true in all countries where Green parties have evolved from the early and perhaps marginalised idealism of a small green minority, to the nasty realism of mainstream politics, which Realos believe can be made to work.

It seems to be a generally-accepted rule of political ecology that a party can remain true to its founding ideals when it has no hope of being elected to government, but that it has to trade in its core values if it hopes to achieve political power. Not everyone agrees that this is a necessity.

The Realo-Fundi split tore apart the German Green Party even during its period of early electoral success. It is still a factor in its present state. Canadian Green parties are now approaching that same philosophical watershed, the difference being that the voice of the Deep Greens and the Fundis is growing ever fainter among Canada’s Green parties. I warned you: it ain’t going to be a nice time.

Political education the key

The tendency to trade principles for power may seem an iron law of politics, doesn’t have to be that way. By constantly reminding itself of the principles on which it is founded, a party can bring new members up to speed on its basic principles, which it must maintain through ongoing self-criticism and political discussion. This can only grow and strengthen a healthy political party.

Terms like “self-criticism” and “internal political education” may seem draconian. Their use can send a shiver of fear down the spine among many of today’s narcissistic generations. It may have shades of the Red Brigades and Pol Potism — but it works.

There has been media speculation recently about the strength and weakness of the Green “brand” in Canada; mostly about its weakness. Due to its boosting by the media, which some say is part of a play by the corporate class to split and undermine the Left in this country (not that Green parties are Left), Canadian Green parties enjoy a level of support far in excess of their internal abilities.

Building a strong green “brand”

Canada’s Green parties are a mile wide and an inch deep. Most can barely muster support to maintain an office between elections, and many local party associations exist in name only. The Green Party may run in every riding or constituency, but most of these last-minute candidates are paper tigers only.

A strong Green “brand” cannot be built only by commissioning slick logos and dazzling policy books. It has be both rational and visionary, and address urgent contemporary issues — and it has to come from the heart, which in our case is a living, coherent, eco-centric suite of political principles and values called Life.

Only by constantly re-examining themselves in the light of their founding principles, can Green parties everywhere grow from marginal visionary status, through fledgeling political novices, to mature political movements that can create a sustainable future for all living creatures on Earth.


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Posted in BC, Canada, Green politics, Green principles | 15 Comments »