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Greens profit from climate movement in by-election

Green supporters, photo by Nanaimo—Ladysmith Green Party
Brian Champ

May 12, 2019

The Green party is on a roll. After forming the official opposition in PEI, three weeks ago, last week they won their second federal seat in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election. Paul Manly’s win for the Greens confirms the fact that the growing climate crisis is a key electoral issue. However, the Greens, like all the other parties refuse to put forward a plan that is far reaching enough to deal with the climate crisis.

Manly captured 37.3% of the vote, rising 17.5% over his share of the vote when he ran in 2015. The NDP vote dropped by 10% and the Liberal vote dropped by 12.5% while Tories gained 1.5% and the right populist People's Party garnered just over 3%.

For a by-election, there was an extremely good turnout of 41%; Jagmeet Singh's by-election in February had a turnout of just under 30%; on the same day in York-Simcoe, it was just under 20%.

Losing this seat and coming in third, is only the latest in a series of disasters for the NDP. This is due to their terrible record on environmental issues. The governing provincial party has given the go ahead to the BC Liberal Site C dam and brags of their ability to reduce corporate taxes enough to subsidize the Liberals’ failed Liquid Natural Gas terminal. The federal party had a chance to lead the fight on climate change if the leadership had embraced the Leap Manifesto, which is a statement of intent for a "just transition" to renewable energy while redistributing wealth in order to reduce economic and racial inequalities. The grassroots of the NDP pushed for adoption, but the party bureaucrats just ignored it. Instead they support the same corporate oil interests as the two main parties, and are unable to consistently oppose pipeline projects.

The BC Greens hold the balance of power in the legislature and have been a grave disappointment to anyone opposing the NDP’s adoption of Liberal’s Site C dam and LNG terminal. The Green’s could have threatened to bring down the government in the vote on the budget and possibly swayed the NDP, but they did not.

The Federal NDP candidate in this electon has a great climate record. Chief Robert Chamberlin, Owadi, is the vice-president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). Unlike the Greens and the NDP, the UBCIC has an inspiring record of opposing oil and gas pipelines and the Site C dam, and at the same time leading the non-indigenous climate movement in the province.

The three main electoral parties continue to oppose meaningful action on climate change even though new reports from the IPCC show that there are only 11 years left to reduce emissions enough to prevent runaway global warming which, if allowed to happen, would devastate the earth's ecosystems and make life very hard indeed for those who survive.

Student climate strikes

The good news is that many are not waiting for electoral politics. The fantastic student climate strikes that are happening every Friday, mobilized 1.6 million students on March 15 demanding real action to reduce carbon emissions. This happened alongside the direct action group Extinction Rebellion (XR) that clogged 5 major London thoroughfares for 11 days and forced the UK parliament to declare a climate emergency.

New Green MP Paul Manly, a long time resident of the area who has been involved in campaigns for social and economic justice and environmental stewardship. He's following in the footsteps of his father, Jim, who was the NDP MP in a nearby riding. Throughout the campaign, Paul was able to articulate a vision that speaks to climate crisis concerns. He argued that we need "bold solutions to the challenges we face" and that we need to "stop subsidizing fossil fuels and invest in green jobs". And he said that politicians need to "plan beyond a four year election cycle and ensure a secure future for our children." He also called for a national moritorium on fracking, developer incentives to build energy efficient affordable rental units along with national universal pharmacare and basic dental plans.

Elizabeth May, who Manly will join in the new Green caucus on Parliament Hill, has been consistent in her opposition to all pipeline expansion and has supported indigenous resistance to pipelines. The fact that none of their policies have yet been tested in practice, and failure of other political parties to provide much reason for hope has contributed to the surge in their support.

On the Green Party website, in the Introduction to "Vision Green", their manifesto, they state: "Many people find it hard to position the Green Party on the old political spectrum. We believe in sound fiscal management, fostering small business, and strengthening our economy while ensuring that it is sustainable. Does that mean we are ‘right wing’? We believe that government must provide needed social services while protecting our environment and the rights of women, minorities, and disadvantaged people. Does that make us ‘left wing’? We don’t think so. More and more people are simply thinking of the Green Party as the party of the future."

But the climate science is clear that to avoid the worst ravages "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 this system the key decisions are made by an unelected elite that ensure it is an exploitative, oppressive and environmentally destructive system so the profits are maximized. And the development of capitalism is intertwined with the development and exploitation of fossil fuels.

Coal fired steam power replaced water power in factories at the end of the 18th century and allowed bosses to build factories anywhere, in part enabling the Industrial Revolution. The discovery of large deposits of crude oil in Pennsylvania and Texas in the US in the 19th century, and even larger deposits in the Middle East around the time of the first world war provided seemingly limitless, cheap energy that would drive economic expansion indefinitely. And so the economies of the world grew, in stops and starts, through war and peace, inextricably tied to the use of these dirty energy sources.

Sending signals to the market, through the use of a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade emissions scheme, may move energy production slightly towards renewables, but it's hard to see what the point of that would be. We need a government that will challenge the rule of capital by investing massively in the development of renewable energy capacity, major improvements in energy efficiency and a re-commitment to public services, where there are many low carbon jobs to be found. These sectors will provide the jobs for the just transition of workers in dirty industries, for which money for training and relocation will be required. The money for all this would come, not from taxing the consumption of dirty energy – which hits workers, who often can't afford an alternative – but from taxing the profits of rich individuals and corporations who have made a killing on the existing setup, and nationalizing the fossil fuel extractive industries so that they can be tapered down.

Achieving such a state of affairs will clearly require a massive, united movement for change against the vested interests who continue to avoid any action. This movement must attempt to address many historical grievances, including racist oppression of first nations who have stood up against the degradation of their lands, waters and skies. Ultimately, given the scale of the crisis and the intransigency of our rulers, it seems clear that we need is a clear break from the status quo: a revolutionary change so that those who work to produce everything in the economy make the decisions, democratically, about production and distribution. This is not an immediate prospect, but it is realistic to prepare for this eventuality. Despite Manly’s comments about “bold action,” this is a much bolder prospect then he or the rest of the Green’s are prepared to endorse.

Green New Deal

There is the beginnings of a movement in the call for a Green New Deal, inspired by the US Democratic Socialist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Green New Deal (GND) is a plan to tax the rich's profits to pay for the just transition to a environmentally sustainable economy, that also recognizes that economic and racial inequality has to also be addressed. It's not a fully worked out plan, but rather a framework for development that ambitiously tries to move the US towards a sustainable future. It is hugely popular because it speaks to the hopes of millions who are concerned about the future for their children, but also are not satisfied with the status quo. The future of the GND is not guaranteed, and is currently uncertain, but there is a movement mobilizing to build support for it and that is the key.

You can join the development of Green New Deal for Canada: This could bring together many existing movements to confront the combination of economic, environmental and social crisis that we face. A solution to the climate crisis means sovereignty for indigenous peoples, accommodation for climate refugees, and reparations for people from racialized communities and a just transition for workers employed in dirty industries.

It’s possible to be hopeful, because people are already moving, especially young people concerned about their future. On March 15, on the lawn of the Nanaimo city hall, 200 people, mainly secondary school and Vancouver Island University (VIU) students participated in the historic global student climate strike movement. In the words of one of the young climate strikers: “If we don’t start making change now, we’re ruining the future for my generation and all the generations to come. There’s no going back if we don’t start making change now …. We’re all small people but together we can make a huge difference.”

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