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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

By Stuart Hertzog
October 28th, 2007

The first tentative Green footprints on the slippery slope to power

Voting at the 2007 BC Green Party AGM

The die is cast: BC Greens vote at the 2007 AGM in Victoria

The 2007 Annual General Meeting was a watershed event for the BC Green Party. After two decades of marginalisation on the fringes of the political wilderness, BC Greens have now taken their first tentative steps on the slippery slope that leads to political power.

Whether that slope leads upwards towards the Green ideals of world peace, ecological and social justice, and grassroots democracy, or downwards into the destructive maw of the global military/industrial/economic machine, depends on whether the party can retain its Green vision as it moves mainstream — or whether it sells its soul in its quest for influence.

Watershed decisions

Three things went down at the 2007 AGM that will shape the BC Green party’s future. At this AGM the BC Green Party:

  • elected as its leader a mature and authentic local politician who is ready to move into the wider provincial arena;
  • rejected a motion to not allow people who make their living in the global armaments industry to sit on the party’s Provincial Council; and
  • voted to accept corporate and union donations.

In my view, that means one step forward but two steps back in the dance towards an eco-centric Green democracy.

Municipal level important

The municipal level is supremely important in Green politics. It’s the level at which many Greens already have been and will continue to be, elected. Jane Sterk’s experience as an Esquimalt councillor set her apart from the other leadership candidates. It was probably the most important factor in her success.

Municipal politics is the interface between communities and the political process. Although hamstrung by limitations imposed by senior levels of government, municipal councils can promote Green attitudes and programs in a way that that makes sense to people. Jane Sterk’s success at introducing a Pedestrian Charter to the Township of Esquimalt is proof of this.

The Farm Team

Political parties have always used municipal elections as a way for upcoming candidates to prove their worth and raise their public profile. Council chambers are a boot camp and training ground for a party’s “farm team” to prepare for the major provincial and federal leagues.

Greens have been elected to municipal councils, but they have not received much help from either the provincial party or local Greens to assist them in their ongoing efforts. Correct me if I’ve forgotten anyone, but in BC the result is that apart from Jane and Whistler mayor Ken Melamed, there hasn’t been much continuity in Green councillors getting consistently re-elected.

With Jane as leader, perhaps BC Greens will start to take their farm teams seriously and form ad hoc municipal associations to put up candidates for council and even for mayor in 2009, and perhaps even more important, continue to support them after they have been elected.

He who pays the piper

While Jane’s election as leader could be considered a step forward, to my mind the party’s decision to accept corporate and municipal donations was a major step backwards.

The old adage: “He who pays the piper calls the tune” is no truer than in politics. Too often, money greases the wheels of government if not by outright bribery, at the least by creating compliant politicians whose prime motivation is to ensure that their re-election campaign war chest is adequately funded.

Party fundraisers were aware that many small business owners were frustrated because their businesses weren’t allowed to donate to the party, denying them the tax benefits. They were reluctant to donate personally as they often don’t pay themselves much, so their overall tax benefit would be less.

Specious argument

Party fundraisers claim that there’s nothing wrong with taking money from ‘small green’ businesses and ‘good’ unions. They suggested at the AGM that the BC Green party does indeed support campaign finance reform, but until corporate and union donations are banned by actual legislation the party is handicapping itself by not accepting donations from businesses and unions.

But this argument is specious, for the following reasons:

  • The party gives up the moral high ground by imitating the fundraising policies of the mainstream parties. It reduces itself to the same base ethical level as the others, negating a major reason to vote Green.
  • There’s no easy way to evaluate what is a ‘green’ or a non-‘green’ business or union, or to set a size above or from which the party won’t accept donations. The party hasn’t the capacity to do this evaluation.
  • It exposes the party to pressure from donors who may have agendas not in line with Green principles, but who now have been given the financial leverage to pressure the party to change its policies.
  • Because this income doesn’t come from the membership, it transfers even more power to the party’s already-too-powerful Provincial Council.

Contentious decision

There’s a fourth reason: the donation issue was contentious in previous AGMs. It was narrowly defeated each time. To resurrect it once again and adopt it with only a small majority at yet another AGM at which — once again — all members were not able to vote, could alienate those who fought hard to keep the BC Green party away from this ‘easy money’ temptation.

It remains to be seen whether this decision will anger other long-time BC Greens to the point that they walk away from a party they view as increasingly adopting a pro-corporate attitude. If the Green party is to have a ‘big tent’ it must strike a balance between these opposing views.

Weapon-makers welcome

To my mind, the saddest part of the party’s political two-step was the resounding rejection of a motion to ban people making a living from the design, manufacture or sale of armaments from being a party director and therefore a voting member of the party’s decision-making provincial council.

The motion was brought in response to central Saanich member Walter McGinnis’s concern about director and former council chair Roy Ball’s ownership interest in Imago Trackers Inc., a privately-held Canadian company that designs and manufactures software and hardware for video guidance and surveillance systems for military and civilian use.

I would have thought that a person whose company is a member of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) wouldn’t even be interested in associating with a party that still has a few long-haired peace and democracy-loving Greens as members. But apparently, I am mistaken.

Don’t prepare for war

I do not subscribe to the Roman maxim: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” That kind of thinking has delivered throughout history only an endless succession of wars, separated only by brief periods of peace. To me, preparing for war results only in more violence and warfare.

Everyone has a choice: to live peacefully in a loving way or to spend one’s working energies devising ever-more destructive weapons and ways of monitoring and controlling others. It’s a basic moral issue. To me, to be Green is to reject violence and enforced control of others.

As far as I’m concerned, those who side with people who destroy life and suppress people, reject everything that Green politics seeks to protect.

From Mexico by Blackberry

Yet members chose to vote down that motion, only immediately to pass a motion emailed in by Blackberry via fundraising chair Andrew Schulz from Mr. Ball at his Mexico vacation. Ball’s motion proposed that convicted war criminals cannot become members of the Green party. Nothing like a good offence…

I guess that means that if you get away with your war crimes, it’s OK to call yourself a Green. In today’s security-obsessed and bellicose climate, that gives a person a lot of latitude. After all, if torture occurs after secret rendition of a ‘suspect’ to another country – well, it isn’t you committing a war crime, is it?

Sometimes I despair of the Green Party. But you knew that already, didn’t you?


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