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It’s always been about democracy

By Stuart Hertzog
December 2nd, 2009

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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


Posted in democracy, Green politics, Green principles | 4 Comments »

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4 Responses

  1. Dan Says:

    Is there any new material in this?

    I’ve been reading your blog for the last two years, and while you has a few good posts early on, for the most part it has been critical, without being constructive.

    Is it:

    Look this is what democracy should be, look at how this country engages its people, this is a different model of decision making, and this is how consensus works. This is what makes a good leader.

    Or is it.


    Why I don’t like Adriane Carr

    Why I don’t like Christopher Bennett

    Why I don’t like the leadership race.

    Why I don’t like Green council and Roy Ball

    Why I don’t like Jane Sterk

    Why I don’t like Elizabeth May

    Why I don’t like Elizabeth May book

    Why I don’t like Elizabeth May other book

    Why I don’t like STV.

    Why I don’t like Elizabeth May and ran against her.

    Why I don’t like Elizabeth May and filed an election complaint.


    you should look back at your june 2007 posts .. you started off on the right path..

  2. Stuart Hertzog Says:

    Hi Dan,

    First, as it’s a compendium, obviously there isn’t anything “new” in it. That’s the nature of a compendium. Sorry about that.

    I presented a vision of a different model of decision-making back in 1985, then watched with growing dismay over the years as a succession of self-serving, power-hungry, foolish party ‘leaders’ subverted the visionary basis of Green politics to become the ‘business-as-usual’ sham it is today.

    Of course I don’t ‘like’ them, there’s not much to ‘like’ about them — as if liking them as people has anything to do with their lack of political vision or the mindless, mainstream, conservative, conventional politics they call Green.

    At least I don’t not like you, Dan! Let’s be thankful for small mercies. But you’re missing the point if you think all I’m doing is being just personally negative about the current crop of so-called ‘Green’ politicians as people. It’s their self-serving politics that I dislike — that’s a big difference.

    I’ve constantly pointed to a positive vision of Green politics, but many people don’t understand the positive aspect of criticism. You have to tear away the rotten overgrowth before the desired harvest can be planted.

    But you are pointing to something that does need addressing: I am very negative about the Green electoral movement. I’m beginning to think that I’m wasting my time: Canadian Green parties may be beyond redemption.

    Thanks, Dan! I’ll ponder on what you’ve written. It was nagging at me, too.

  3. Dan Says:

    I’m glad I’m not on the Herzog black list, yet.

    I haven’t had my chance to lead a Green Party, so we will see what the future holds. Although, I can promise this. If I ever do lead the Green Party, I’ll make new mistakes instead of the same old ones!

    Anyways, look forward to new writings.


  4. canbyte Says:

    hooray. I gotta bookmark this site. Finally i meet a fellow traveler. This past month has been rough on me with the Copenhagen Treaty being target of my worries. Greenies on Treehugger and other sites could not understand, or chose not to, that Clause 38 of the draft treaty undermines democracy in a serious and worrisome way. So greens refused to acknowledge the threat and ordinary folks could not roust themselves from their lethargy enough to care. I got it from both sides.

    Methinks part of the problem is success – the green viewpoint is accepted uncritically everywhere, almost. Greens tend to be young or if not, a bit rebellious, and cannot imagine that folks might actually agree with them on many points (many real environmental problems that humans CAN do something about) while disagreeing on other points (don’t mess with democracy). Which becomes green gestapo – the desire to force folks to accept direction from greens alone, which ain’t democratic, but which Clause 38 resolves in a negative way. This thought should be taken further to uncover the roots of the idea that A should dictate to B without compromise.

    Then there was climategate. Every thread seemed to degenerate into a debate about whether the science is telling the truth, the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. Greens could not accept that just as big oil has a bias, the IPCC also has a bias – in its incentives and in the way it operates. If greens cannot discuss this openly, we cannot uncover the WHOLE truth. We accept that justice is served by adversarial courts but cannot the same should be accepted in our investigations of so called climate change. So, even though i do worry about melting glaciers, i’m sort of forced to become a denier.

    But there’s too much real work to do, too many real problems to solve. The problem now becomes how to persuade ordinary folks turned off by greens extreme/ dogmatic zealotry, to muster the political will to solve all those real problems.

    I look forward to discussions of how this is to be achieved.

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It's All About Democracy

By Stuart Hertzog

This intriguing collection from greenpolitics.ca offers a much needed and iconoclastic view of Canada’s Green parties.

Activist Stuart Hertzog’s lively, insightful, and often wry commentary shows just how far Canadian Greens have drifted away from the original Green political principles.

Its profoundly democratic vision offers a practical cure for our dysfunctional political system and a way forward on urgent global issues.

Vital reading for all Greens!

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