Fire / Feu



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The Greens are right, right?


By Murray Dobbin
Globe and Mail
June 16, 2004
Permission for use
granted July 30, 2004

It is intriguing to watch the coverage of the Green Party in the federal election because the conventional wisdom -- that it will take votes from the NDP -- is confounded by the party's actual policies. While the analysis is likely correct, a look at Green policies reveals that this party is really a Conservative alternative, not a social democratic one. Its fiscal, economic and even environmental policies would be a near perfect fit for the old Progressive Conservative party.

In fact, the Greens are led by a former Tory, Jim Harris, and under his direction have become the quintessential small government, pro-market party.

Jim Harris

(photo: Green Party Canada)

Their social analysis says virtually nothing about the structural causes of poverty, and their solutions borrow from both the former PCs and the Alliance. They talk about how a Green government would "enhance the existing network of ... school nutrition ... and food-bank programs ..." to eliminate hunger in Canada. Those who study poverty with a view to ending it see food banks not as a solution, but as a symbol of everything that is wrong with the way governments approach poverty.

The party is committed to smaller government in a way that no other party is, except the new Conservatives. With respect to the devastated federal public service -- characterized by massive downsizing, unprecedented stress levels, completely inadequate staffing to carry out department mandates and years without real increases in pay -- the Green Party has a single response, and it sounds a lot like Stephen Harper's: "Reform the public sector to be more responsive and accountable." This is union busting by another name, and seems to promise the continuation of the right-wing assault on government employees. If you want the public service to be "responsive," the logical solution is to return it to functional staffing levels.

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The Greens' fiscal policies are among their most reactionary and problematic. They toe the Bay Street line by promising to "lower taxes on income, profit and investment, to promote increased productivity and job creation." As for addressing the problem of chronically high unemployment, the party takes a page out of Paul Martin's book of maintaining extremely low inflation -- Greens will still fight inflation by putting people out of work unless unemployment rises above 10 per cent. These policies have been notable failures for the past 15 years -- lowering wages, increasing the productivity gap with the United States and creating mostly low-wage jobs -- and certainly have no place in the platform of a party that pitches its appeals to social democrats.

Any increase in revenue from promised Green taxes on "harmful activities" would be neutralized by lowering income taxes, the most progressive and fair taxes we have. The Greens also call for an increase in property taxes, a regressive tax. They are committed to using surpluses to ". . . reduce the national debt." In other words, the party is to the right of all the major parties, which are now committing billions for spending on social programs that Canadians say they want.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Green platform is the lack of any commitment to using government legislation or regulation to accomplish core environmental goals.

Here are just a few examples: "The Green Party will: Empower [bioregional] stewards to seek intervenor status in legal actions that impact the health of the ecosystem; . . . work with local environmental groups to reduce pollution levels in the air, water and soil; promote sustainability through education; and monitor the diversity of species, the levels of pollution and the health of the ecosystem. "These are not the actions of a government committed to using its mandated power to actually protect the environment. The party also supports the corporate sector's position on self-regulation: "The Green Party will assist and encourage Canadian companies to attain ISO 14000 certification, the international standard for management." The ISO 14000 has been almost universally condemned by the international environmental movement as ineffective and unreliable.

Those Canadians thinking of voting Green because they believe it is progressive had better do their homework. There is more to this party than the user-friendly name would suggest.