header image

Why I am Standing as a Nomination Candidate

By Stuart Hertzog
August 22nd, 2009

For the Green Party of Canada In Saanich-Gulf Islands

Stuart Hertzog - photo by Peter Rockwell

“We need a different kind of politics… a participatory democracy”

photo by Peter Rockwell

Stuart Hertzog is a writer, editor, and publication designer, and an active environment and social justice advocate. He has worked on many environmental campaigns, including waste incineration, municipal recycling, air pollution, energy, and on maintaining the moratorium on BC offshore oil and gas development. He has been involved with the Green Party since 1984 and has run as a provincial candidate three times, once for the BC NDP in 1991 as part of the NDP Green Caucus, then twice for the BC Green Party, in 1995 and 2001.

Stuart believes that the primary task of the Green Party is not to just to talk about the environment, but to defend and develop Democracy. He is concerned that Canada’s Green parties have drifted away from their fundamental Green political principles in their drive for political power. They have centralised party decision-making processes into the hands of the central council and the leader, alienating grassroots green activists and undermining their membership base.

“We need a different kind of politics to tackle the major issues of world peace, economic justice, pollution, and climate change,” he says. “We must create a citizen-based, Green democracy as the foundation of a compassionate and eco-centric society, for the protection and prosperity of all that lives. This democratic revitalisation must begin within our own Green political parties,” Stuart concludes. “We must begin at home.”

An environmental and social justice activist

My name is Stuart Hertzog. I am a writer, editor, and publication designer. I have been involved with the Green Party since 1984, in Alberta and BC. I’m also a long-time environment and social justice advocate, my main focus since moving to Vancouver in 1988 to work for Greenpeace Canada.

In 1989 I ran a successful Greenpeace campaign to prevent a toxic waste incinerator from being built on the Seagull Indian band reserve near Hope in the lower mainland. This project would have created toxic ash and spewed dioxins and other pollutants into the airshed of the upper Fraser Valley. As a result of this campaign, no toxic waste incinerators have been built in the Fraser Valley.

I then set up Citizens Action Network (CAN), a grassroots citizens environmental group focussed on urban pollution. CAN was able to prevent then Vancouver mayor Gordon Campbell from permitting a garbage processing plant to be built on Terminal Avenue in Vancouver, against the wishes of local residents.

Campbell’s garbage-mashing plant would have allowed people to continue to throw recyclables into their trash, resulting in a low-grade product good only for burning in pellet stoves. These in turn would act as multiple point sources of air pollution and leave toxic ashes. As a result of this success, the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) moved to adopt blue-box recycling, which we agreed to only on the basis that it would begin to educate people on the necessity of reducing and reusing their household waste.

So I can claim the rare distinction of having fought Gordon Campbell—and won!

I then sat on the GVRD’s Air Quality Advisory Committee; was an Intervener to a BC Utilities Commission hearing; and a member of the Burrard Task Force examining the operation of the Burrard thermal generating plant, the largest single source of air pollution on the Lower Mainland. I have been focussed on energy issues, including preventing BC offshore oil and gas development.

In recent years I have taken on social justice issues with Faith In Action, a non-denominational, faith-based social action group based in Victoria (I am a practicing Buddhist). I am now setting up the Vancouver Island Subsidised Housing Tenants Association (VISHTA) to advocate for administrative justice, tenant rights, and respectful treatment of residents of public and private subsidised housing for seniors and people in need. This campaign is ongoing.

Three-time Green political candidate

I first became politically active when I joined the Green Party in Alberta in 1983. At that time there were very few active Greens in Alberta. I realised that those few of us, including myself, were too naïeve and inexperienced. I needed to learn about politics, so I joined the Alberta NDP. When I moved to BC I became active with the Green Caucus of the BCNDP, and was also an active member of the BCNDP’s Standing Committee on the Environment.

The Green Caucus played a large part in trying to push the BCNDP towards green policies, particularly on logging in the Carmanah Valley. But the industrial unions in the NDP were anti-environmentalist, and after running as a candidate for the NDP in Vancouver-Quilchena in 1991, when I came in second, the victorious BCNDP under the leadership of Mike Harcourt essentially pushed the Green Caucus out of the party. Glen Clark, the next NDP BC Premier, was even worse. Clark declared environmentalists “enemies of BC.”

Having learned something about politics, I rejoined the BC Green Party in 1996 and ran as a parachute candidate in Bulkley Valley Stikine, enabling just 151 local people to vote Green. That experience convinced me that parachute candidates simply don’t work. A person has to live for some time in a city or bioregion to understand its social ecology. You need a sense of ‘place’ to go beyond human-centric environmentalism.

I then ran as the Green Party candidate in Victoria-Hillside in 2001, at which time I received 19.82% of the vote. I had to set up the Victoria-Hillside Green Party constituency association to do this, which I did single-handedly. I received no help from the party’s central office for my Hillside campaign, as the majority of its efforts were being directed towards leader Adriane Carr’s unsuccessful bid for election on the Sunshine Coast. Only the miraculous appearance of few willing volunteers prevented me from bailing out in the middle of this campaign.

This experience gave me my first insight into the Green Party’s growing lack of support for its grassroots membership. It lead me to the conviction that Green parties must be reminded of their political and philosophic origins, which is why I set up greenpolitics.ca, and why am now standing as a nomination candidate.

Back to Green principles

I am standing as a Green party nomination candidate for Saanich Gulf Islands because I believe deeply in the Green principles on which all Green parties are based―or should be. These have been written down in many ways, but they can be reduced to the four basic principles or pillars of Green politics:

  • Peace and non-violence based on Acceptance
  • Social Justice, which is based on Equality
  • Eco-centrism (biocentrism) based on Interdependence
  • Participatory Democracy based on Respect

All of these are important, but primary among them for any Green political party is the Green principle of participatory democracy. This means that everyone affected by a policy, law, or project must have a vote in deciding that issue. “Top-down” processes directed by an autocratic government, making decisions behind closed doors, are not participatory. Canada’s Westminster-style parliament is far from being democratic.

It may seem strange to make the achievement of participatory democracy―genuine democracy―as the primary goal of Green politics. Isn’t the Green Party the party of the environment? I believe this view is incorrect, and that the Green Party has misunderstood its mission in the Canadian political arena. The environmental movement deals with environmental issues; the Green Party’s primary mission is Democracy.

I came to this conclusion only after years of working on environmental issues. We won campaigns by taking our fight to the court of public opinion. We gave people the facts, and they agreed with us. Politicians backed down as soon as public opinion swung against them. Those campaigns we lost were never resolved in public view. Secret decisions were made behind closed doors, in cabinet or at private meetings with corporate CEOs and lobbyists.

Because our political system is not truly democratic, once these agreements have been struck, prime ministers and premiers simply issued legislation or Orders In Council to ‘make it so.’ Public opinion didn’t affect those decisions.

Our parliamentary party system is dysfunctional in many other ways. Power to represent their constituents has been removed from MPs and MLAs. Ministerial responsibility has been reduced to an empty tradition. Prime ministers and premiers have politicised the civil service. Party leaders act like dictators within their own party, reducing candidates and even elected caucus to “yes” people.

Anti-democratic centralism

Unfortunately, the same tendency towards anti-democratic centralisation has become dominant in Canada’s Green parties. As they drifted away from their Green political foundations, they have forsaken grassroots Green bioregional activism. Their focus now is exclusively on the inner machinations of federal council, and the loyal court of supporters surrounding the leader.

Perhaps this is in the nature of human beings. Certainly, history tells us that after the idealistic stage of a political revolution, those with a need for power soon move to repress ‘dissenters.’ But grassroots Green politics is not about disempowerment; Green politics is about respect and empowerment.

Federal council has defined its goal for the coming election as to get just one Green MP elected, namely Elizabeth May, the current leader. They believe that the Green Party won’t be effective until it can belly up to the negotiating table and become part of the anti-democratic, secret deal-making process.

I believe that they are wrong. For a start, the ‘leader’ of a Green Party is supposed to be a spokesperson, not a dictator. The cult of leadership and its promotion by the corporate media is not Green. I believe that getting the leader of the Green Party elected won’t change anything, except to guarantee the flow of funds to central party coffers and reduce the Green party to being seen as just another bunch of untrustworthy politicians that make self-serving deals.

There is already enough public distrust of the current political process, especially by young voters. We don’t need more wannabe politicians saying “Vote for me, I’ll fix everything.” People know that promise is not authentic.

By desperately trying to become a mainstream political party, Green parties are in danger of losing their vision, and soul. It has been said that: “Without vision, the people perish.” I say that without principles, politics is an empty charade.

A different kind of politics

The old way of doing things is not going to help us overcome the major challenges facing us today. With others, I began warning about global warming in the early 1980s. Almost thirty years later, the world’s politicians have failed to halt the growth of greenhouse gases. All they can do is talk.

We need a different kind of politics, a politics of involvement and respect, to tackle the major issues of world peace, economic justice, pollution, and climate change. Imitating conventional political parties isn’t going to save us.

In 1985, I presented a discussion paper to the Founding Convention of the Green party of Canada, in Oliver, BC. Called Distributed Democracy, it described exactly the same of bioregional, grassroots structure that I am still promoting as a truly Green democratic model for both the Green Party and for Canada.

Out of fear and close-mindedness, the Greens present chose not to adopt this forward-looking structure. Instead, the Green Party of Canada was set up along the same top-down, hierarchical lines as other conventional political parties.

Green politics is different

Genuine Green politics is truly different. Green parties were conceived as offering an alternative to the undemocratic centralisation of power in a political system that was designed to preserve the rule of the aristocracy and the might of the British Empire. Now, it serves CEOs and the money men, who prosper from a selfish and rapacious industrial economy that impoverishes people even as it destroys species and ecosystems. We must halt their destructive greed.

We need a new kind of politics―a grassroots, community-based, participatory democracy, and an eco-centric and life-affirming social culture―to overcome the currently destructive focus on economic growth, with its over-production of material goods that generates a ‘wealth’ that flows directly to the already rich.

Please join with me in this task

We are faced with a conundrum that “politics as usual” isn’t going to solve. This entire planet and especially those humans and other living creatures being exploited by greedy global corporatism, is crying out for we humans to adopt an eco-centric and democratic Green politics.

I believe that only a truly Green political party that practices what it preaches, can offer an alternative to dysfunctional conventional politics. Parchuting the leader of the Green Party into a foreign bioregion and pouring in the money, will not change Canadian politics by one iota.

This is why I am standing as a nomination candidate for Saanich-Gulf Islands, in my Island bioregion. I ask you to join me in the great task of creating a Green, citizen-based democracy, and a compassionate and eco-centric society, for the protection and prosperity of all that lives.

Stuart Hertzog,
Victoria, BC
August 20, 2009


Posted in Canada, democracy, Green politics | 177 Comments »