Until very recently, it was hard to take the Green Party, or Elizabeth May, seriously. Only Ms. May has been elected to Parliament as a Green, and the party’s share of the popular vote declined to a dismal 3 per cent in 2015 from a high of 7 per cent in the 2008 election.
But things change. The Greens are a force provincially in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island. Nanos Research, which polls for The Globe and Mail, currently has them federally at 8 per cent. The NDP under Jagmeet Singh has struggled to find candidates or raise money. With the Liberals and Conservatives tied, even a small clutch of Green seats could have an outsize influence in the next Parliament.
So what do Greens stand for? What would they expect from a governing party in exchange for their support? We learned the answer Monday, with the release of the party’s election manifesto.
The platform is breathtaking in its ambition. To respond to what many believe is the climate emergency of global warming, a Green-led Canada would shut down Alberta’s oil sands over the next 10 to 15 years. All fracking would cease. "By 2030, 100 per cent of Canada’s electricity will come from renewable sources.”
Natural Resources Canada estimates that the energy sector directly employs 270,000 people, accounting for 11 per cent of Canada’s GDP, and that carbon-based sources account for about 60 per cent of primary energy production. Even if some workers transition into the renewable-energy sector, we are talking about enormous job losses.
Under the Green plan, the federal government would put some of these people to work at retrofitting buildings to be more energy-efficient, or in other jobs; some would receive enhanced pensions, allowing them to retire. As for the impact on GDP, the Greens would replace that metric with budgets that focused on “wellbeing.”
In the meantime, prime minister May would be implementing a national pharmacare program, dental care for low-income people and a Guaranteed Livable Income. Also, high-speed rail and free tuition. There’s more in the 82-page platform, but those priorities would keep any government busy through a four-year term.
Ms. May has said a Green government would also balance the budget within five years. The obvious question is: How would that government implement the most radical social and environmental agenda in this country’s history, without running deficits?
The Greens’ answer: Close tax loopholes; eliminate fossil-fuels subsidies; raise the corporate tax rate to 21 per cent from 15 per cent; tax financial transactions along with revenue parked offshore, bank profits and foreign e-commerce companies such as Google and Netflix; roll existing support programs into the guaranteed basic income.
The Parliamentary Budget Office will release its analysis of the platform shortly, the Greens say. But to these tired eyes, the tax measures proposed would not provide the revenue needed to implement the Green program while also keeping budgets balanced.
But as Ms. May acknowledged Monday at a press conference, she will not be prime minister after the next election. So this manifesto should be seen as a list of priorities for a possible Liberal or Conservative minority government seeking Green support.
None of those priorities would be acceptable to Conservatives. So, does that mean the Liberals can count on the Greens? Not quite. Another Green priority is electoral reform, which means moving away from first-past-the-post and toward some form of proportional representation. Justin Trudeau promised electoral reform, then broke that promise. Would Andrew Scheer agree to PR to get the Greens to support his throne speech?
The political coalitions that dominated the 20th century are under threat in the 21st. In the United States, the Republican Party had been captured by a narcissistic populist. Anti-immigration parties are on the rise in Europe. Countering them, Green parties and movements are challenging the established centre-left parties for the progressive vote.
Things come late to our quiet dominion. But there is a stirring in this land. Maxime Bernier, the Leader of the right-wing populist People’s Party, has been given permission to join in the official leaders’ debates, despite his hateful tweets against environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Neither the Liberals, the Conservatives nor the NDP appear to be exciting voters.
If the radical right is coming to Canada, then a powerful Green Party may arise to counter it. Maybe not in this election, with this leader, or with this platform, but someday, somehow, and soon.