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Plan of Green fables

PEI Green supporters. Photo Green Party of PEI Facebook
Brian Champ

April 26, 2019

It was an historic election night in Prince Edward Island this week. As climate scientists have become more and more clear in their warnings of a fast developing climate crisis, PEI polls have reflected this concern and in the last few months support for the Green Party has surged; some polls showed them leading with over 40%, creating a buzz that they could possibly form a majority government, and indicating a potential for record voter turnout. These expectations were overblown, but the result nevertheless uncovered a seismic shift in PEI politics.

Despite the fact that the Tories managed to win the most seats, 12 (out of 26), they did not win enough for a majority. The previously ruling Liberals only won 6, falling to third place. In a first for any province, the Green party won 8 seats and will form the official opposition to the PCs. The seat total could have been 9, and still could be, after the election for the Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park district was postponed after the death of Green candidate Josh Underhay and his son in a canoeing accident. 

There was no blue wave; the Tory share of the popular vote fell by almost 1% compared to the 2015 election. The Liberal vote collapsed by over 11% and the NDP share dropped by around 7%. The Green Party seemed to captured virtually all of these disaffected voters. Their share of the popular vote rose by over 19%.

There are a number of reasons why this result is historic. Firstly, before this result, all but one PEI government since Confederation has been a majority government, and that one was in the 1890s. Secondly, PEI provincial politics has been dominated by the two big parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives. This domination was so complete that, before this result, a third party had only won at most one seat in any election, and only two seats had ever been won by a third party. And finally, this is the first time that the Green Party has garnered enough seats to form the official opposition in any province or territory or federally.

Before the polls showed that the Greens were in the running, there were other signs that things were shifting. In November, 2017, the Greens became the first third party to win a by-election in PEI history.

Climate crisis
This shift is part of global phenomenon, growing numbers of people are becoming alarmed by the dire warnings about the reality of climate crisis. The population of PEI is no exception. When the IPCC released their latest report last October, warning that 45% CO2 emissions reductions from 2010 levels would be needed by 2030 to avert a high probability of runaway temperature increases if temperatures rise more than 1.5°C, the provincial Liberal government said that they wouldn't change their climate change plan. The PEI plan was criticized because they said they could meet their targets without a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, which the federal Liberals require provinces to include in their plan under the "Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change". Although the Liberal climate plan is a sham, and carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes are ways to avoid dealing with the climate crisis, it has to be recognized that for wide layers of people, a carbon tax or cap-and-trade regime can seem to be a realistic solution, when the only other option on the table is the same old rhetoric and no action.

This is where the Greens climate change platform messaging comes in. They were able to present themselves as the party that takes climate change and the environment seriously and were able to promote the image of the Greens as "an alternative that feels comfortable and is credible to voters; voters are hungry for a type of politics that will speak to them", as Green leader Bevan-Baker explained after the election. Unfortunately the PEI Greens, the Greens federally, and in other provinces have put forward plans that cannot solve the climate crisis.

The centrepiece of the Green Party climate change platform is the carbon tax. While extolling incentives for homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs, and electric and hybrid vehicle rebates (including charging stations in garages), in a Youtube reply to questions from students in the province, Bevan-Baker said that "central to all of that is the proper and smart implementation of the carbon tax in a way that nudges us toward better behaviour."

Indeed, the incoming PC Party premier stated that they would not oppose participation in the carbon tax, demonstrating at one and the same time the conservative nature of this provision and the impact of the Green Party surge on politics in the province. When asked after the election about working with the PCs in the PEI legislature, Bevan-Baker stated that there were "a lot of overlap, parallels" between the platforms of the two parties. In the budget proposals from the two parties, the Greens only allocated $100,000 more than the Tories in spending on climate change and environmental issues.

Greens aren't enough
But the latest IPCC report released last October made clear that far more than "nudges" will be required to meet the challenge: "Limiting global mean temperature increase at any level requires global CO2 emissions to become net zero at some point in the future. At the same time, limiting the residual warming of short-lived non-CO2 emissions [(e.g. Methane)] can be achieved by reducing their annual emissions as much as possible. This would require large-scale transformations of the global energy–agriculture–land-economy system, affecting the way in which energy is produced, agricultural systems are organized, and food, energy and materials are consumed". In other words a complete transformation of the global economy and it’s interaction with the natural environment needs to be undertaken, and to do so we need to quickly stop emitted all greenhouse gases as soon as possible. The Greens are no different then the other parties in Canada in their refusal to commit to action that will reduce greenhouse gases far enough or fast enough.

Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise more and more quickly. The task is not one of sending signals to market forces to change their behaviour, but for the massive development of alternatives to the status quo of fossil fuel energy production throughout the economy so that these dirty energy sources can be phased out. Workers who work in the "dirty" industries must have a way to transition to good green jobs, which will be plentiful because there is so much to do. And given that the divide between the rich and the poor seems to increase in lockstep with CO2 emissions, it is only fair that the 1%, who have benefited from the exploitation of labour and the despoliation of the environment, should pay for a just transition and also for social programs to reduce this economic disparity.

Green New Deal
We need something closer to the Green New Deal (GND) that was put forward by the Sunrise Movement in the US, and championed by DSA Member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Recognizing that the changes required to reduce emissions to the levels that will avoid a runaway climate crisis are interwoven into the way the economy works, the Green New Deal proposes a framework for directing and funding these changes based on taxing rich individuals and corporations to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and at the same time funding social programs to reduce the inequalities that ravage our societies. The GND was adopted by Congress, but was shot down in the US Senate, leaving its future uncertain, but the idea that governments can fund massive programs to address these issues, rather than relying on market mechanisms, is a huge step forward. Furthermore, the idea of taxing the rich to pay for social programs is hugely popular as 75% of Americans in a recent poll supported the GND.

And we don't have to look to the US to see these politics in action. Last October, in the Quebec national election, readers of will remember that, although the right wing, islamophobic CAQ became the government, the left wing party Quebec Solidaire increased their seat count from 3 to 10 and became the official opposition in the national assembly. They did this while campaigning on traditional left issues like transit fare reductions, increased funding for healthcare and education, but they also included in their campaign a call for a just transition to a sustainable economy and climate-friendly jobs, or as QS calls it, a "transition énergétique."

The barriers to implementing a GND in Canada, or anywhere, are formidable. Oil companies are some of the largest economic entities in the world, and many decades of lobbying and influence peddling have created a vast infrastructure that have made fossil fuels indispensable to the running of the economy. Public expenditures on roads, direct aid to oil and gas development and other public monies are spent on further entrenching dirty energy. Compounding the issue in Canada, is that those that manage the Canadian economy see the development of the tar sands as the centre of economic growth for the indefinite future.

Politicians often have difficulty in thinking beyond an election cycle to longer term problems such as this, but the urgency has increased with the timeline that has been identified by the IPCC of 11 years for 45% reductions in emissions for global average temperatures to remain below a 1.5°C rise.

Within the labour movement there are also challenges, as union workers who work in these "dirty" industries have to be won politically to the politics of a just transition to green jobs. But the existence of a plan, like the GND, that laid out a framework for the building of a sustainable future based on just transition could help build the case.

We will have to fight hard to realize this future because of these challenges.

But the fantastic student strike movement that has mushroomed over the past year, initiated by the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, and that mobilized 1.5 million students around the world on March 15 has warmed the hearts of many veterans of the climate justice movement. On April 15, the direct action group Extinction Rebellion shut down 5 major thoroughfares in London demanding the government tell the truth about climate change, set drastic targets to meet zero carbon emissions reductions by 2025 and establish a citizen's assembly to decide how those targets will be reached.

Amazingly, the blockades were held for 11 days, drawing in new layers of people who supported the direct action. Police tried to shut them down with arrests, but many people were prepared to be arrested; over a 1,000 activists were arrests. In the end, XR called for a "pause" after successfully raising the climate crisis up the political agenda in Britain, which has been dominated by Brexit.

We will need to build on this energy and example of the types of militant struggle that will be required to create enough momentum to make a difference. Crucially, we will need to win the argument in the labour movement for a just transition to green jobs, so that organized workers can join the fight and transform the meaning of “climate strike.” Mobilizing in the streets and in our workplaces will be necessary so we can build a party that, unlike the Greens, will take climate change seriously.

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