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It’s always been about democracy

By Stuart Hertzog
December 2nd, 2009

The best of of greenpolitics.ca now available as a book

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I’ve been an environmental and social justice advocate for many years, working on many different campaigns and issues. Sometimes we won; sometimes we didn’t. We won because we were able to inform people about the real impacts of a project, or the implications of a government policy or proposed legislation.

When we gave people the unvarnished truth they usually agreed with us, and the resulting upsurge in public opinion eventually persuaded the politicians to come out in favour of the environmental view. The project or proposal was rejected in the court of public opinion. The majority view prevailed.

We lost campaigns because the decision to go ahead had already been made, behind closed doors in cabinet or in private meetings between government ministers and industry. Any public consultation that took place was just a pretence to preserve the illusion that the government is listening to people.

Democracy is never served by covert decision-making, and even more important, the environment and non-human species are never protected by such self-serving secrecy. So although ostensibly we were fighting for the environment or social justice, in fact we were fighting for an open, honest, and responsible democracy—not the closed and dishonest parliamentary demockery that we have today.

Many years in the making

It’s All About Democracy, which is why I gave this title to our newly-published book featuring the best of greenpolitics.ca to date. For sure, Green politics is about protecting the environment and preserving all species of life on this planet. But that’s not all: it’s also about peace and non-violence; about compassionate social justice; and about developing an open and inclusive democracy—something that has never really existed in our ‘developed’ nations.

This book has been a long time in the making. I first became involved in the peace and environment movements over 40 years ago, and soon began to understand their ultimate dependence on the political process. I joined the Green Party of Canada very soon after it began, and immersed myself in green thinking.

I’ve watched as Green parties have developed over the years. At first, it was all idealism and flakiness. Achieving 100% consensus was the overriding goal. That was soon rejected in favour of a looser definition of consensus; even a two-thirds or larger majority. Eventually a workable process emerged.

As the years went by, something less benign started to develop. The idealistic Greens were pushed aside by a more pragmatic member who wanted to see Green parties become a ‘real’ political presence. Ambitious people started to use Green parties as a vehicle for their political advancement. Green parties began to take on the more unfortunate aspects of conventional political parties.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Green politics was supposed to an alternative to the inauthentic, self-serving, and ethically corrupt politics of the traditional ‘mainstream’ parties. Green parties were supposed to be based on their grass-roots members, not ruled by a closed and inward-looking élite or a cosy clique.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what they have become.

The origins of greenpolitics.ca

I’ve run as a provincial candidate three times: once for the NDP in Vancouver-Quilchena in 1991 as part of its then-existent Green Caucus; then twice for the BC Green Party, in Bulkley Valley-Stikine in 1995, and in Victoria-Hillside in 2001. In Bulkley Valley-Stikine I attracted only 141 votes, but in Victoria-Hillside I won almost 20% of the ballots cast—but that was a very atypical election, even for BC.

But my experience of BC Green Party leader Adrian Carr in the 2001 campaign was less than satisfactory. Although she did well at establishing a media presence for herself and the Green Party and comported herself well in the televised leadership debate, her support for her candidates was at best perfunctory. The majority of Party funds went into supporting her unsuccessful Sunshine Coast campaign.

Carr made many decisions both during and after the election without consulting myself or other Green candidates, even in announcing unilaterally that the Green Party would campaign for a public referendum on proportional representation, a losing fight based on very one-sided and flawed legislation.

I quit the Greens in disgust, but when Carr announced in 2006 that she would step down as leader, I rejoined the party. What I found didn’t please me. A clique of male chums was running it as their personal fiefdom, and I soon locked horns with them over their lack of open democratic process. I needed a public platform.

Leadership race ruled out

With a leadership race in the offing, I could stand as a leadership candidate, which would give me a forum to talk about the state of democratic process within the party. But I would have to accept the rules as laid down by this supercilious little clique—and they were the ones who would administer these rules. This was not a situation that spoke to me of openness and fairness. I rejected that option.

I had been experimenting with blogging, and quickly realised that a political blog would give me an independent platform that would enable me to present my views without danger of being shut down by the very people I was opposing. The idea of greenpolitics.ca was conceived, and very soon delivered.

Two-and-a-half years later, I found myself once again dissatisfied with the leadership of a Green Party. You can read about what I went through in standing against Elizabeth May as a Green Party nomination candidate in Saanich-Gulf Islands. That too, was not a pleasant experience.

Will I never learn?

As I wrote these posts, I began to realise that this entire blog—in fact, my entire political life since joining the Green Party in 1982—revolved around one central issue. It was all about democracy, distributed democracy, participatory democracy—Green democracy. Unfortunately most Green parties, certainly most Canadian Green parties, have forgotten about the primacy of that factor.

From blog to book

This importance of democratic process gives a coherence to greenpolitics.ca, and makes this book possible. This is not just a collection of random thoughts. It’s a (somewhat rambling) polemic on an issue that I believe is central to Green politics and Green parties everywhere. It’s all about democracy, as the title says.

I wrote at the beginning of this preface that I believe that we won’t achieve social or environmental justice until we have a genuine, open, participatory democracy here in Canada and throughout the world. I believe that the struggle to achieve a genuine participatory democracy is the central struggle of this time. Without it, we have nothing to protect us. Marginalised, we are oppressed, and we are ruled.

I hope that this book will give you some idea of what I believe we must achieve at this time. Despite the best of intentions, pages of political policy won’t protect the planet. Canadian Green parties must be restructured from the ground up, and a far-reaching but practical, organic structural model is presented here.

Please forgive its obvious weaknesses—this book was not written as a book, but as a blog, so it tends to repeat its central themes. I hope that you find it useful.

Victoria, British Columbia
November, 2009


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