Good Sunday Morning,
When Elizabeth May released A Green Approach to Reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons I scanned the five pages of fine print and thought to myself, "this is great but no one is ever going to read it." I was wrong. Not only did it get read but it caught the attention of prominent journalists including Susan Delacourt and Kady O'Malley. Following on the heels of the release of her 2017 TEDx talk, where Elizabeth inspired a standing ovation with a humorous exploration of Canada's 150 years of 'Electoral Dysfunction', it once again demonstrated her unwavering dedication to improving Canada's democracy by calling a spade a spade.
"One of her more eye-catching suggestions is to have the Commons sit six days a week for three weeks at a time," writes Susan in this IPolitics piece. "But the really intriguing suggestions in May’s paper are all about dialing down the partisanship in the Commons — by, among other things, breaking up caucus-based seating and placing MPs in the Commons alphabetically, or by the geography of their home ridings." She recounts talking with Elizabeth about how we’ve gotten accustomed to the idea that the Commons is supposed to be partisan theatre — "a place to bray and bellow, and test out talking points and strategies for some future election."
That was never Elizabeth's style. When she was first elected to the House of Commons she immediately demonstrated her commitment to improve the decorum of that chamber. And that's how the journey down Green road to better democracy began. Two years later Elizabeth was followed into the chambers of power by Andrew Weaver. Then came David Coon and Peter Bevan-Baker. All have had a disproportionate impact on their respective legislative bodies proving that Margaret Mead was right: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Influencing how we do politics and bringing it back to the people is what Greens do. Even Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario who does not yet have a seat in the legislature, is having a positive influence on our democratic system. He is constantly pointing out how governments push mega-projects for short term gain without adequate consideration to either the practicality or long term consequences of these projects. Instead of working out partnerships with Quebec Hydro and community based wind generation, Liberals in Ontario prefer expensive refits of outdated nuclear facilities and industrial scale wind farms.
Mike and the Ontario Greens have long been a strong advocate for a per vote subsidy: "...because, if you want to produce legislation in the public interest, the public should fund political parties. We already have a public-financing system in Ontario, but it’s a pay-to-play system; if you donate, say, $2,500 to a political party, you get almost half of that back though public financing of a tax credit,” he noted. “We would prefer to see a public-financing system that’s vote-to-play and that would be your vote directs a donation to a political party.” As of January 1st that subsidy is in effect in Ontario at a rate of $2.71 per vote.
Influence peddling seems inevitable when you combine mega-projects and big business with political parties in search of wealthy donors to fund their war chest. But it's not how Greens champion democratic values. Since his being elected in 2014, David Coon, leader of the New Brunswick Greens, who won his seat by beating a conservative Cabinet Minister, has brought forward issues and ideas that have led to change in that province. "I'm raising issues or solutions that would not be otherwise raised or proposed," he said in an interview. "I managed for the first time to bring about a debate about forest policy as a result of my bill to cancel contracts with J.D. Irving and other big forest companies."
David has made a major effort to try and open the window on the legislature to New Brunswickers. "It's the people's house but most people don't feel like it's their house." Jamie Gillies, a political scientist at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, believes that David has been an original and important voice in New Brunswick political discourse. "He continues to hold accountable, not just the government and Premier [Brian] Gallant, but the legislative process itself, often pointing out how vested interests control and command the provincial narrative." Like Andrew Weaver and Greens across the country, David is championing the reduction of the voting age to 16.
Peter Bevan-Baker, the leader of the Green Party in PEI who won a 54% majority with twice the votes of the Liberal Cabinet Minister incumbent, once said that "if you work hard and stick to your principles, the almost impossible becomes almost inevitable." Peter should know, he ran for the Greens ten times in Ontario and PEI before winning his seat. Now, his single voice in the legislature continues to champion the democratic cause of Prince Edward Islanders.
One of those causes was last Fall's plebiscite on Electoral Reform. Another is the basic livable income. And although the current premier has bristled under his scrutiny, the latest poll puts Peter ahead as the 1st choice for premier outranking the leaders of the governing Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP. Even the party as a whole, represented in the Legislature by Peter's sole voice, outranks the official opposition.
And now the time has come to elect the first Provincial Green caucus led by Andrew Weaver here in British Columbia. It's time. Oh boy is it ever. Our current government has hitched the provincial economy firmly to the pipe dreams of a dying industry. And the party in waiting has spent too much time doing exactly that; waiting. It's 2017 and it's time to engage the citizens of BC to put this province in the forefront of the 21st century economy, as we all adapt to global climate realities.
With his impeccable credentials and unwavering commitment to fight climate change, Andrew Weaver is leading a team to do just that. He repeatedly challenged BC's (very conservative) Liberal government with a progressive plan to eliminate that tax we call MSP Premiums. The Liberals doubled the tax during their stint in power but waited for their election budget to promise action, you guessed it, after the election. Although having now seen the light, the Liberals let the clock run out on one of one the common sense bills Andrew tabled in the last legislative session; to ban employers from requiring women wear high heals to work.
Even before the most recent polls showing Greens in the lead on Vancouver Island (and trending upwards province wide), Andrew's influence was being recognized: "Since being elected as the first ever Green Party MLA in the legislature four years ago — and then becoming party leader — Weaver has emerged as one of the hardest working politicians in Victoria." Mike Smyth writes in The Province. "He introduced an amazing 19 private members bills in the legislative session that wrapped up last week. That’s more than the 18 bills introduced by the entire 35-member NDP caucus, and way more than the measly nine bills the Liberal government brought in (only seven of which were actually passed)."
But the move that demonstrates most deeply why Andrew Weaver leads a team that is dedicated to improving our democracy is the bold decision to unilaterally stop taking corporate and union donations. Unlike the NDP and Liberals, who in this wild west of campaign financing don't even have to pretend to stay at arms length from the big donors, the BC Greens have raised more funds than ever before by appealing directly to the citizens of British Columbia. In 2016 the BC Liberals raised $13.1 million, 58% from corporations, almost twice what the NDP raised that year. But the NDP is also not entirely dependent on the voter for it's funding with almost 40% of donations coming from Unions and corporations. As a spokesman for BC's largest gas distribution company put it in this article: "...it’s important to us to have clear channels of engagement with not only government and ministers’ offices, but also with the opposition.” Sounds to me like big business knows how to secure those "channels of engagement" and is simply hedging its bet. Perhaps another comparison puts it all into perspective. With just one seat in the legislature, Greens attracted fully 10% of all the personal donations by individuals to BC's provincial parties during 2016, a non-election year.
Greens don't split the vote: We are the vote. We increase voter turnout. Why? Because we awaken the body politic by offering an authentic alternative to old style politics. "Change we can count on" indeed. Like every other Green elected in Canada so far, Andrew Weaver didn't win by stealing votes from the NDP, he won by unseating a Cabinet Minister. Now it's time to send a message to the old gun slingers on both sides of the dusty main-street that is the wild west of BC Politics. There is a new voice in town that shoots straight and tells it like it is. A voice that represents the people and is not afraid to stand up to the power brokers. A voice that is committed to policies that help British Columbinans take their place at the forefront of a bright and prosperous post carbon future.
On Tuesday the campaign for that future begins in British Columbia. On Wednesday you can join Andrew Weaver as he shares the stage with David Suzuki at the Victoria Conference Centre's Frank Carson Hall. No doubt they will talk about their vision for that future and why we must embrace it now. Bring your family, bring a friend, invite a neighbour, to celebrate a new beginning in BC politics. Doors open at 6:30pm
See you there,
PS If you live on the Saanich Peninsula and are unable to make it to Victoria on Wednesday night you can meet Andrew in Sidney at 2:15 on Thursday afternoon. Click here for details. And click here to find an event near you!