Greens set to ride the tidal wave of change

Good Sunday Morning,

carbon_bubble.jpgAs we explored last Sunday, we are facing a tidal wave of change. Fueled by the growing recognition that it is critical to the survival of our civilization, this change threatens to undermine the dominance of political and corporate dynasties alike.

About a dozen years ago our very own Ronald Wright warned us about the increasing resistance to change that is the hallmark of a faltering civilization. Easter Island is small enough that the person who cut down the last tree must almost certainly have been able to view his surroundings and know that it was the last one and that there would be no other. He cut it down anyway. Wright documents how in their desperate attempts to cling to the myth of growth and power, even in the face of environmental consequences that spell the end of their dominance, civilizations have migrated towards autocratic rule. He also reminds us that every time history repeats itself, the price goes up. Unlike the civilizations of Sumer, Rome, Maya or Easter Island, our current civilization is global in scope and the stakes are higher than ever.

Since the dawn of the agricultural revolution the elite has sprung up all around us while those creating the wealth worked in the fields and factories. Although accelerating technological change will continue to allow us to produce more for less, income disparity and the resulting concentration of wealth continues to escalate. Although it has not reached the obscene levels of the US, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives just reported that Canada’s highest paid 100 CEOs have set a new record. Their individual compensation in 2015 hit a new high at $9.5 million, or 193 times more than someone earning an average wage of $49,510. And they earn it by 11:47 a.m. on January 3—the first working day of the year.

Empowered by the cynicism that Elizabeth May and Barack Obama have warned us about, a new breed of plutocrats are now trying to gain the upper hand. And paradoxically they are doing it by milking the growing dissatisfaction with the establishment. As a recent Globe editorial states: “In 2016, liberal democracy was under threat in countries that were thought to represent its pinnacle. From Europe to the United States and, yes, Canada too, the institutions that perpetuate our way of life are being rubbished by populists, racists and autocrats who would like nothing more than to see the end of a governing system that stands between them and unfettered power.” Another piece referenced Joe Biden as stating that there are now just two lonely defenders of what remains of the “liberal international order” – Canada’s Justin Trudeau, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Freeland.jpgBut here at home the evidence is mounting that, Chrystia Freeland's expose not withstanding, the plutocrats are tightening their grip on Justin Trudeau's new government. The broken and corrupt NEB process remains the only tool for environmental protection from dilbit pipelines. The carbon tax is woefully inadequate. Carbon targets remain firmly in Harper's range. The mythological mantra of bringing product to tidewater, echoed by both the NDP and the Conservatives, remains the rallying cry to justify unconscionable infrastructure investment in a dying industry. And the government seems to be moving to ratify the TPP with its Investor State Dispute Settlement Agreement

What links these disappointments here at home with the alarming global trend is the need of the plutocrats to protect the growth of the Carbon Bubble. In the end the human race may be won or lost by a singular question: Can democratic institutions survive the calamity triggered by a desperate ruling class, clinging to power by maintaining the charade of unlimited growth fueled by ancient sunlight? Speaking truth to power as we answer that question is our opportunity as Greens.

Mainstream political parties in Canada by their very nature do not have the capacity to anticipate and embrace the new change agents that we so desperately need to avoid environmental disaster. Their success is rooted in the best practices of days gone by. As the bitter experience of the US election made all too clear these practices no longer apply. Building on the expectations that a strong political machine could deliver the votes, the Clinton campaign was blindsided by the irrational protest of a disgruntled electorate. The only true populist candidate was shut out and a faux radical was elected president. Now, while a Citibank investment banker heralds the shift away from fossil fuels as a new technological era of stability and peace, the military industrial complex is buoyed by calls from the President-elect to re-ignite the nuclear arms race.

Justin Trudeau was swept to power by the promise for real-change. From coast to coast to coast he appealed to those Canadians who are disillusioned with broken political promises and hidden agendas that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Whether he believed his own campaign promises is increasingly beside the point. If he continues to sidestep his commitments and allows the old guard to perpetuate the analog paradigms of a carbon economy and raw resource extraction, his credibility, and with it his popularity, will fade.

But before we let our scorn for his lack of follow through feed our righteous indignation we need to take a look at our own plutocratic tendencies. It is an easy pattern to fall into. Driven by "best practices" that have served as case studies for success in the past, we accept as inevitable that money is power. Fundraising becomes our number one focus. We need money to run campaigns that make promises to elect candidates so we can gain power to run things our way. That is the historic pattern of politics and everything flows from that paradigm.

elizabeth_convention_0.jpgFor Canadians that are looking for a genuine alternative, it's not about money and power it's about people and community. It's about offering hope in a despairing world. Populist campaigns around the world are tapping into this but in the absence of a higher vision they tend to translate into an insular attitude of us against them. Greens can offer an alternative because at our core we understand that everything is connected and nothing and no one functions in isolation within a finite Eco-sphere. We need to come together to unpack the complexities and find common solutions. We need to find our global community that spans not only generations but all other divides.

At last summer's convention a dangerously flawed resolution development process turned what should have been a routine strengthening of our foreign policy, into an existential crisis that diverted our attention for six months. It also stole the spotlight from a profound observation by Frank Graves that the polls are clear; the time for the Green Party is at hand. Sustainable environmental stewardship is going mainstream. Our flagship is finally becoming the number one issue on people’s mind and all that is left is to figure out how to integrate it into our economy.

The Accelerating Change Agents we talked about last Sunday show us how to do just that. But Canada, with its lackluster innovation and deep addiction to the old carbon economy, is poised to be left in the dust.

The investments in that carbon economy are staggering. The stakes are huge. Every year that the Carbon Bubble is allowed to expand, represents trillions in phantom profits migrating from your pockets into theirs. Now that all this is about to change, the old economy is desperately looking for ways to fortify their fading balance sheets. They know that technology is no longer the obstacle to sustainable economies. Cultural adaptation is poised to overcome the resistance to change. But to see who continues to try and fortify that resistance you only need to take note of the primary sponsors that dominate major sporting events.

To this backdrop Greens can offer a stunning alternative. A bold departure from anything that smacks of established political practice would capture the imagination of the disenfranchised and the disillusioned. Coupled with a clear commitment to mitigating the worst shocks of the accelerating disruption, Greens could position ourselves as the champions of environmental solutions and the working class simultaneously. We already have the policy foundation for this strategy. Free tuition, guaranteed livable income, fee and dividend carbon pricing, pharmacare. All are policies to reduce income disparity and level the playing field of opportunity.

060116-justin-trudeau.jpgBut optics play an important role. The perception that politicians break promises is reinforced as Trudeau's honeymoon fades. Presenting Greens as different is not as much about substance as it is about process. The slightest indication that our political objective is about winning and power tars us with the brush of cynicism. The underlying expectation is that when you strip away the rhetoric, Greens are just another political party honing its machinery to win power. Whenever our actions substantiate that narrative we lose ground.

Elizabeth will remain as leader because the membership has asked her to. Now we can start to build the campaign for 2019. We do it by championing everything that is right about parliamentary democracy. We do it by engaging the citizens in a hopeful future that marginalizes the plutocrats and provides opportunities for the masses in a sustainable world. We do it by promoting bold and progressive policies but also by reinventing what it means to be a political force in Canada. Authenticity instead of rhetorical platitudes. Speaking truth to power.

We recognize the need to embrace trade that is fair and respectful of our diversity. We need energy policies that are sustainable and merge with global realities. We need economic policies that level the playing field and ensure equal opportunity. We need to do more than say no to the past. We need to be the champions for a bold NEW future. We don't need to have all the answers but we need to hold the vision that together, as Canadians, we can find them. We need to demonstrate how we can mobilize democracy to bring people together instead of driving them apart.

Authenticity is the holy grail of reinventing politics. And to build a campaign based on authenticity we need to protect our credibility at every step. For us to be credible our vision needs to permeate everything we do and say. It needs to be more than messaging, more than a talking point. It needs to be who we are. Michael Enright’s New Year's essay quotes Zaidie Smith: “Those of us who remember a finer music must try now to play it and encourage others, if we can, to sing along."

Out of that fertile ground, donors volunteers and candidates will emerge.

Liberals didn't sweep to power because they fielded exceptional candidates. They swept to power because their leader personified a vision that resonated with the voting public: Young, bold, vibrant, and committed to change. Now it's up to the Liberal Party to connect with that vision and deliver on that promise. Right now they aren't doing so well.

Elizabeth_at_door.jpgOur leader personifies a smart, thoughtful, authentic and sincere parliamentarian with a passion for building a better world for her grandchildren. Elizabeth has proven that her appeal runs deep and wide. In a riding that includes staunch conservatives with multi million dollar waterfront homes, traditional NDPers nurturing alternative lifestyles on the Gulf Islands and a suburban middle class that is the focus of Liberal aspirations, she inspires a commanding majority of voters. No matter which party they belong to, her fans continue to echo one sentiment over all others: "I'm not sure about the Green Party but Elizabeth is fantastic."

Greens don't elect Greens. Elizabeth has shown us how to reach out to our full constituency. Not just our membership or the the 600,000 who voted for us in the last election but the 57% of Canadians who are disillusioned, disappointed and disgusted with politics as usual. They believe they are a minority. The media never talks about them and politicians seldom talk to them, let alone with them. Yet as we see again and again they are an increasingly dominant force in global politics.

They are waiting for us to stand tall in that part of the political field that rewards authenticity and integrity more than hollow promises and political rhetoric. To do that requires a bold shift in emphasis. A shift that is self evident when, like I have had the good fortune to do, you sit in the community halls and at the kitchen tables of Greens across the country and really listen to their dreams and trepidation.

This shift requires that our overarching vision is articulated and exemplified by all our day to day activities. It is a vision that is personified by our leader when she does what she loves best; be an outstanding parliamentarian. It is a vision that manifests itself in a dedication to respectful, thoughtful and truly representative governance within our party. It drives policies that are pragmatic and comprehensive and that offer workable solutions to pressing challenges. It delivers communication that is dynamic, sincere and informative, offering hope for a better future for everyone.

Integrity and authenticity. Telling it like it is. That is our brand. That is what separates the parliamentarians from the politicians. It's what Canadians long for even more than a promise.

Have a fabulous weekend,

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  • Jon Povill
    commented 2017-01-12 15:12:55 -0800
    Great article, Tom. I think branding is also important to the Green Party. We’re still essentially branded as a protest party rather than an agent of positive change that can be effective, starting right now. When people see us as the party of jobs, because most of the good jobs now and in the future will be sustainable jobs in carbon neutral industries, that’s when the Green Party will start to get get Elizabeth May-like traction. So, to gain the traction, we must do everything possible to foster the growth of sustainable industries and to connect people with the jobs that become available through that process. Then, the word will spread that this is the way of the future — the best way for both now and the future.