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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.


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

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15 Responses

  1. Brian Says:

    How can Green go mainstream?

    While the “10 Green Principles” and Global Greens Charter are great documents to rally around, let’s not forget about the process by which and the spirit with which those principles and that charter were created: Green politics is about participation, education, global vision, responsibility, empathy and caring, inclusion and openness, and other values which British Columbians and Canadians identify.

    The catastrophic failure of the Green Party will be caused by those who continually gripe that small steps in the right direction are “not Green enough”. These “elite Greens” are living a culture of conspicuous consumption (differentiating themselves as “special”), so by definition this “elite Green” culture can’t go mainstream.

    In a democracy, all people have equal power. Even if the Green Party is polling at 10-15%, that STILL means that 85-90% of people asked prefer one of the 4 other parties. On that note, I find it hysterical that people on the Let Elizabeth Speak campaign say that they’re campaigning in favour of democracy. Isn’t that the classic case of special interests lobbying for more than their fare share of the finite resources (in this case TV air-time)? There has never been any Stephen Harper Gestapo or Big Brother sabotaging Elizabeth May’s communication efforts through her blog and by youtube video. The fact is NOBODY HAS BEEN LISTENING and the question is WHY? Do we blame the shareholder-owned corporate media? What is our strategy, and how will we achieve our goals?

    Screw elite Green-ism. Let’s ditch political infighting, griping about “not Green enough”, and ruminating over dogma like the 10 commandments. Let’s focus our energies on making small steps in the direction we all agree is the right one: towards sustainability, social justice, better democracy, and a healthier and happier life.

    Thumbs up for the BC carbon tax.

    Now it’s time for action.

  2. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    Do you really believe that it’s OK to have principles, as long as the Green Party doesn’t have to keep to them? Isn’t that the same kind of duplicitous attitude that has alienated people from mainstream political parties? If the Green Party doesn’t keep its principles firmly in mind, it’s going to morph into being just another mindless, middle-of-the-road, light green, conservative party, which it may already have become. And Brian, your attack on “élite greens” has shades of a McCarthyesque witchhunt. Who are these élite Greens living a life of conspicuous consumption?

  3. Brian Says:

    No: I believe that adhering to Green Party principles is essential, or else even if we win, it won’t be a Green Party win.

    Please don’t be so conservative! In the recent past, Greens have found common ground on the four pillars, six guiding principles of the Global Greens and the 10 principles of the Green Party of BC.

    Conservatism is sticking with yesterday’s language whereas progressivism means creating new language (ideas/rules/frameworks) today.

    So let’s not stop with what we accomplished yesterday. I have a vision of real-time grassroots community-based governance, where the people affected by the decision (stakeholders) are the ones making the decision.

    Build with me, Stuart! As part of your revitalization project, why not review, update, and improve the section about the GPBC?

  4. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    No, “sticking with yesterday’s language” is not a definition of conservatism. What you are promoting is modernism, in which the past is glossed over and repressed. It’s a denial technique. And your reasoning contains a contradiction in that you want to uphold the basic principles of Green politics but you also want to rewrite them, and you deride those who still value them. Can’t have it both ways, Brian! The principles are good — hold to them!

  5. Brian Says:

    Stuart, I welcome this exchange with you.. and by no means do I intend to repress either your voice or the work of Greens in the past. I stand by my definition that conservatives conserve the language (laws/contracts/sayings) of the past whereas progressives build on the foundation of the past, looking forward. So perhaps we disagree there.

    But I think we can agree that we need to APPLY the Green Principles to REAL SOLUTIONS for British Columbia. Can you agree with me here?

  6. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    OK — let’s agree to differ on our definition of conservatism, and let’s work together to apply Green principles to come up with real solutions for BC and the world. Wait! Doesn’t that make us élite Greens? Where’s my Smart Car? I need one: my VW Westfalia won’t fit into my underground parking slot. Anyway, thanks for the discussion, Brian. It was interesting. (ENDS)

  7. Brian Says:

    For a humorous skewering of Elite Greens, please see:

    1) the South Park episode of Smart Car drivers who, rather than filling their city with smog, are now filling their city with smug: wikipedia, video

    2) the book “Rebel Sell” available here

  8. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    Brian! I’m starting to think that you’re an agent provocateur working to discredit the green movement from the inside. Of course, I may be wrong: you may be a troll or just confused. For a start, the video is a satire (I think South Park is great!); a work of the imagination. It shows only that you have no factual evidence to back up your apparent disdain for those who hold to Green principles. And the book you are promoting is yet another attempt by establishment academics to belittle the environmental and anti-corporate movements through patronising put-downs. If you read the reviews you’ll find that many of its readers were frustrated by the fact that its authors fell into the same error of non-proof that thus far has undermined your arguments in this thread. Nice try! But no cigar.

  9. Ian Whyte Says:

    The Realo/Fundi split is alive and well in Canada, with unfortunately, the Realos in ascendancy, and increasingly so, I might add. The reasons?

    IMO there are several.

    1. Many Greens seem ready to sell their soul in order to gain a seat, and they are quite open about it. “Don’t address this or that issue, it’s too contentious and will turn the voters off” or some paraphrase of this is often heard. Population and the necessity for a reduced material throughput come instantly to mind as examples. The very idea of even discussing the dread formula D=PxCxT actually seems to sicken some Greens, even those in high places.

    2. Many of the newer Greens came to the party, as Stuart says, with an incorrect idea what the party stands for, or at least, what it used to stand for. These people are now the vast majority, IMO.

    3. Many came to the Greens because they were dissatisfied with what their old party was doing. I see these people as often strong minded mal-contents, and ones who will not easily adopt real green ideas. They were repelled into the Greens, and not really attracted to the Greens.

    4. There is no strong cadre in the Greens effectively promoting deep green ideas and philosophy.

    Ian Whyte

  10. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    Excellent points, Ian. The obvious conclusion is that it may be time to establish a Values caucus within the Green Party, to keep the party on track with its own philosophy. Wasn’t the Green Party originally called the Values Party? Seems we have to go right back to the roots. That’s radical!

  11. R.A. LeBlanc Says:

    I realize I am a little late to this discussion, and I apologize if this post is a duplicate. I had a late night blunder and wasn’t sure if what I had spent 30 minutes writing made it to your board.

    My question is what of Harris and May?

    Harris the former Tory and May the former member of Mulroney’s inner circle.

    Much of the GPC’s fortunes have been built under these two and they both have coloured pasts and presents when it comes to the left wing support the GPC courts.

    Under Harris the GPC was about as far from the International Green movement as it could get. See this article from the last election:


    Under May the GPC has shown it’s spotty on Social Justice isssues. The biggest spot being the GPC’s embracing of Income Splitting. A policy that they are apologetic for in the text of their platform. Even going so far as to acknowledge its effect on the regression of women.

    May herself is on the pro-life side of the abortion debate, a fact that may have cost her the by-election in London North-Centre. Not to mention that the humanist values of the Green movemment run contrary to May’s efforts to become a member of the clergy.

    It seems the GPC is willing to sell itself out, not only in its selection of leaders, its momentary and monumental slips into political opportunism, but perhaps more strikingly its complicity with the Canadian media labelling it as “on the left”. The GPC has also done nothing at all to discourage that scourge of voter apathy that finds the young and the underinformed expressing “I’ll just vote Green…they’re running right?”

    I keep waiting for someone to call the GPC to the carpet on these facts. Layton had his shot when May raised Income Splitting during the debate. But, alas, the NDP has unfortunately for our democratic process, decided that it wasn’t to its political advantage to have its leader question May on the issue.

    Sometimes I feel as though I’m alone in the forest screaming these facts about the GPC and either people don’t want to hear it, don’t care or would rather it just be kept quiet.

    I can only hope that a few people read this post, then a few more read it, then a few more start talking about it and then maybe the GPC will be under the scrutiny the Green movement in Canada needs.


    Sackville, NB

  12. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    I agree with you about Jim Harris, Rob. I think that essentially he’s a corporatist. I wrote about him on rabble.ca at:


    Long URL! And yes, the Greens are spotty on social justice, largely because most of the newer Greens are disaffected Liberals or dispossessed Red Tories. Canada’s Greens are Right-centrist, with some progressive views.

  13. R.A. LeBlanc Says:

    Ya know something Stuart, your article is so familiar I think it may very well have been the first bit of reading I’ve ever done on the subject. Thanks for pointing me to it. I don’t visit rabble.ca as often as I should. The Ads and Banners are a big turn off for me, but it does show they have a heck of a sales team there.

    Right Centrist? Is it not then incumbent on the party to make this clear to voters? Rather than slyly rely on support (and read $1.75 a vote here) from people who believe otherwise. Also, that scourge of apathy I wrote of. The “None of the Above” support, that seems to swing the GPC’s way. It’s a factor that is never addressed in the discourse, mainstream or otherwise, and it should be.

    On May. Does she not bear some responsibility for continuing to turn the Greens away from social justice? Her personal views are problematic, and she is perhaps worse than Harris for complicity in the labelling of the GPC as “leftist”.

  14. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    Rabble.ca is an excellent Canadian discussion site with intelligent writers. It’s very much worth reading regularly. As far as I can gather it receives support from the Canadian union movement, making it strongly pro-NDP.

    I’m not sure that Elizabeth May is responsible for turning the Greens away from social justice as you suggest. It’s there, but the dominant tendency in the Green party is to approach it from a right of centre perspective.

    Rather than Left vs. Right, I think that the internal battle is between those who have internalised a corporatist mentality and those who identify with the anti-global movement, which is anti-corporatist. By and large, the Old Left has been eliminated from Canadian politics. History moves on and the battle lines change.

    By the way, you can Reply to a specific comment by clicking on the (Reply) link beside the comment title, or selecting it in the drop-down menu below the comment window. Then the comments are nested nicely.

  15. R.A. LeBlanc Says:

    I guess perhaps what I should have said about rabble.ca is that I find the site too “busy”. But, I’m no web-designer so I digress.

    With respect, suggesting in an election platform document that rather than earning a lving apart from her male partner, a woman might consider taking up arts and crafts is not at all socially just. Unless of course we see the advancement of women as being part of the Old Left.

    While I agree that the battle lines are changing, the fundamental schisms amongst those who consider themselves to be on the left (or anti-global/anti-corporatist if you prefer) are still there. Class, race and gender are still the primary drivers behind the movement. The light of criticism needs to be cast on the GPC’s eagerness to ignore two out of three of these with its Income Splitting policy. I say this risking an image of being on a single issue crusade.

    I didn’t say May was responsible for moving the party to the right, rather that I believe that she bears some respnsibility. As party leader she should.

    She’s also in the fortunate position to not have her personal views scrutinized too closely. But I wonder what will happen when the support begins to climb. If I were her I would give Stockwell Day a call to find out “What Not To Answer” (or Wear…poor old Stock).

    And again, and perhaps most importantly, I press these two points that perhaps go more toward the democratic nature of the party rather than its ideological soul searching:

    What of apathetic “I’ll just vote Green” votes. In May’s Writ Day stump speech she almost went there, saying something to the effect of ‘get engaged’ but she stopped short of addressing it. Choosing instead to tell us not to watch the US election.

    Also I believe it’s important for the GPC to align itself on the Canadian political spectrum as Canadians understand it. This complicity (and refreshingly Stuart you don’t demonstrate it) with being labelled on the left must stop.

    Maybe though, that responsibility shouldn’t lie with May or the GPC. Maybe it lies with the other parties aligned on our spectrum.

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