heerful and ebullient, federal leader Jim Harris appears to be
propelling the Green Party of Canada towards national electoral success.
But behind the upbeat election results and the prospect of almost a
million dollars a year in federal financing to power future growth, the
Green party of Canada may be headed for a major split at its upcoming
biennial convention August 26 to 29 in Calgary.
Although the Greens won 580,000 votes in this year's
federal election, taking 4.3 per cent of the votes cast by Canadians and
breaking the magical two per cent barrier for the first time, Harris's
brand of right-wing, market-based environmental and economic policies
plus his unexpectedly ruthless internal maneuverings and manipulations
have alienated many of the party's more traditional "deep"
Backed by the conservative Ontario Greens and its leader
Frank de Jong, Harris has moved the federal Green party so far to the
right that it's barely a "green" party any more. And his
attempt to cement himself in power may well backfire.
"Jim Harris's vision is centralized control of the
party administration with the participation of two or three of the
thirteen provincial and territorial fiefdoms," wrote long-time
party member and Thunder Bay resident Charles Campbell to dissident
greens on their very active and decidedly anti-Harris New Green email
list. "It is driven by borrowing against future funding and has as
its goal the creation of a personality cult around the Leader,"
Campbell thundered. "Its approach to policy is to hide our history
and create a neo-con vision of green economics driven by how profitable
ecological business can be."
Campbell is a former chair of the federal Green party's
policy committee. Instead of calling for more funding for environmental
protection, the Green party's 2004 election platform stressed voluntary
compliance by polluters and green tax-shifting. Printed on glossy paper,
the 60-page, full-colour booklet is full of feel-good words and
contradictions. It called for a leaner, "smarter" civil
service and tax cuts on income, profit and investment, made
revenue-neutral by increased taxes on "bads" such as pollution
and fossil fuels.
But the platform's promotion of the ISO 14000
self-regulation standard as a way of encouraging corporations to achieve
pollution compliance really rankled many enviro greens. Introduced under
the heading Industry: Profiting from Progress, it promised tax breaks
for companies certified compliant to ISO 9000 and 14000.
Branded by Campbell as "policy pablum," the
Green party platform also was judged deficient by Canadian
environmentalists, scoring less than Jack Layton's "green NDP"
policies in a combined analysis by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club of
Even the way the election platform was put together
alienated the faithful. Instead of being hashed out and ratified by
members, Harris hired an employee to shape his eco-capitalist ideology
into a feel-good document. Coming out of right field, the policy
platform blindsided the 308 Green election candidates.
"If most members of the party are not familiar with
ISO 14000, then why are we pushing it?" asked Campbell. "How
many of our candidates were given quality briefing material on this or
any other platform item? How many had any input?"
Perhaps the Green party's new-found leniency towards
corporations stems from Harris's corporate consulting activities.
According to his bio on the Green party's official web site, "Jim
Harris is one of North America's foremost authors and thinkers on change
Harris's corporate clients include Agilent Technologies,
Barclays Bank, Centra (Gas?), Columbia Tristar Pictures, Deloitte &
Touche, the European Snack Food Association, Johnson & Johnson,
MasterCard, Munich Re, NEC, Worldwide Express and the UK Cabinet Office.
Corporate clients of a leader of a Green party? It's
true - and not too shabby a list for the leader of a party whose roots
extend deep into the global anti-corporate movement. Sure, even
capitalists must be educated about green values, but mixing business
with green politics puts Harris in a conflict of interest.
Harris entered politics while at university, where he
was a campus Tory. Reading the book Green Politics by Fritjof Capra and
Charlene Spretnak, which traced the early development of Green parties,
convinced Harris to join the Greens in 1985.
He became Organizing Chair for the Green Party of
Ontario in the provincial election of 1990, and Toronto organizer for
the Green party of Canada in the federal election of 1993. Harris was
elected President of the Green Party of Ontario in 2001.
After an unsuccessful challenge to become federal
leader, which he lost to left-leaning Joan Russow, who has since
defected to the NDP, Harris was successful at becoming leader of the
federal party in August 2003, winning over 80 per cent of the votes.
He soon found the inexperienced federal council members
no match for his political skills and quickly assumed total control.
Within less than a year of his being elected leader, six of the 10
federal council members quit after Harris successfully undermined their
authority. Two others resigned later.
Three of the original six, including former chair
Gretchen Schwarz, were recruited by an eager NDP. Welcomed into Jack
Layton's inner circles, Schwarz became co-chair of Jack Layton's
environment committee and ran as a candidate in Pontiac in Quebec,
coming fourth with 2317 votes but beating out the riding's Green
Schwarz points to Harris's insistence on unilateral
decision-making within the council as the underlying reason why she and
the others resigned. "He was completely unreceptive to anyone's
input. Only his proposals were considered," she explained.
"Our choices were either to go along to get along (with what he
wanted) or fight and be branded obstructionist."
Harris failed at being included in the televised
national leaders' debate, but electing a Green MP to parliament doesn't
seem to be the main issue. It seems to be more about getting and
controlling the federal money to pay for this election and build the
party for the next, keeping Harris and his band of eco-conservatives in
power, and steering the Greens towards the right of centre in Canadian
The party's "deep" greens have a tough fight
ahead. An omnibus motion written by an Ontario party policy wonk if
passed at the Calgary convention would rewrite the party's constitution,
vest total control in the national leadership, and would let the leader
remain in power almost until he or she decided to retire. This is in
direct contradiction to original Green opposition to the centralized,
hierarchical, authoritarian and anti-grassroots structures of other
Another motion seeks to allocate the federal funding so
that debts of the national office are paid first, with money flowing to
local green party electoral associations only after that. The national
party office could rack up a sizeable deficit knowing that this would be
covered, while local campaigns would be starved of funds. This would
give Harris a lot of discretion over party spending, especially with
limited oversight by a tame federal council dominated by his supporters.
Already, the national office has put out a call for a professional
consultant to review and assess the party's organizational structure and
define job descriptions along with proposed salary and benefits for any
There's a small hitch: Harris's leadership is up for
review for another two years at the party's biennial convention to be
held outside of Calgary at the end of August. He's running against
Ottawa-area organic farmer Tom Manley and deep green, Valemont B.C.
resident John Grogan, who is handicapped by living in a remote rural
area. Grogan complains that he has not been able to access the party's
mailing list to promote his leadership bid and may not run.
With the 2004 election success to claim as his own,
Harris is favoured to win - despite the fact that much of the increased
Green vote came from people expressing dissatisfaction with other
political parties. Most probably didn't even know that Harris was leader
and certainly didn't understand his political drift.
The party's "deep" Greens likely will be few
in number at the Calgary convention but if their discontent spreads to
other delegates, Ontario agriculture critic Manley may emerge as the
compromise candidate. He's already making soothing statements to the
effect that he understands that this rift in the party must be healed.
"The Green Party has gone from a relatively small
party to the smallest of the big parties," he stated in an
interview with the Ottawa Citizen. "That means we have a lot of
people out there who have sometimes differing and sometimes conflicting
expectations and understanding of the Green Party."
"Our major challenge is to unite these people ...
and that is a big challenge."
Soon, the future of the Green Party of Canada will be
decided by those few members who can afford to travel to Calgary and pay
the $175 registration fee. But as the existing constitution states that
any constitutional changes must be acceptable to and reviewed by the
entire membership, this attempt to legitimize what in essence has been a
political coup may not be legal.
If Harris survives the challenge to his leadership and
the restructuring passes, the Green party of Canada will not be the same
one that set out over 20 years ago to reshape Canadian politics. Some
say it won't be a "green" party at all.