Back on election night, it looked like Anjali Appadurai might be heading to Parliament.
It was a source of enthusiasm for all those who hoped to see Canada take ambitious and justice-based action on climate change.
Ten years ago, Appadurai, then a young delegate to the United Nations climate negotiations in 2011, gave a fiery speech which caught the world’s attention (and, arguably, paved the way for Greta Thunberg to do something similar later). In it, she lambasted world leaders for consistently failing to provide solutions to the deepening crisis that her generation and frontline communities around the world would find themselves in.
“You’ve negotiated my whole life,” she reminded them. ” Do it ! “
Since then, Appadurai has become a respected climate justice organizer, and she has been to consider be part of an emerging “climate caucus” in Parliament that would disrupt the incrementally dangerous attitude of our country’s two dominant parties in the face of the crisis. The Canadian chapter of 350.org itself approved she as a climate champion.
In the end, however, the Vancouver Granville riding went to Liberal opponent Appadurai, who escaped with just over 400 more votes.
Is there a lot of value in continuing to have two parties with similar political beliefs and goals competing for the same segment of voters?
So what went wrong for Appadurai? What could those disappointed with the results next time learn about electing climate leaders?
If this contest had been just a three-way race between significantly different parties – NDP vs Liberal vs Conservative – a post-mortem might involve a simple analysis of the differences in campaign strategies, funding and local media coverage.
But it wasn’t that kind of race. There was another factor: just over 1,400 votes went to the Green Party candidate in that riding. And that raises another set of questions.
For example, what was the point of running an environmental candidate in Vancouver Granville? Did Green Voters Feel Their Candidate Was Offering Something significantly different from what Appadurai offered? Did they believe that in Canada’s first past the post electoral system their votes would be anything but wasted votes that might otherwise have gone to a viable candidate?
Behind all of this looms an even more important question: is there much value in continuing to have two parties with similar political beliefs and goals competing for the same segment of voters?
In other words, on what basis, if any, should Canada continue to have the two a New Democrat and Green Party?
Typically, the main goal of a Green Party is to mainstream issues of ecological sustainability into mainstream politics. Along with this mission, there are efforts to promote more participatory and local forms of democracy and commitments to non-violence.
A social democratic party like the NDP, on the other hand, normally exists to bring about a more humane capitalism. Instead of the surplus in the economy being massively monopolized by a class of owners and managers, the Social Democrats would invest it in a generous welfare state, publicly providing the goods and services necessary to guarantee a wide range of human rights. . Along with this is the concern to promote unions and laws that can protect workers from the vicissitudes of the global marketplace and from ruthless profit-seeking bosses.
There are occasions when these different Green and Social Democratic agendas can clash and a split into separate parties has clear value. At the provincial level, Rachel Notley’s pro-oil Alberta NDP was one such example, offering a brand of fossil-fuel-fueled social democracy that, in the midst of the climate crisis, cannot match the strong sustainability that ‘a Green Party ideally demands. John Horgan’s New Democrat BC government, with its support for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, could be another example.
But in the case of the federal NDP and the Greens, any clear distinction in the programs – or even in the objective – has become blurred.
For the last two elections, the two parties proposed similar social democratic platforms complemented by important roles for government investments in a just post-carbon transition. While this was enough for them to distance themselves from the neoliberal parties to their right – the liberals and the conservatives – it was not enough to distinguish them from one another.
Amid multiple environmental crises, it’s hard to see much value in it, measured either in terms of strategy or by bringing important new ideas about sustainability into the mainstream.
At least until the formation of the People’s Party, Canada’s political right had long understood the consequences of dividing the electoral base in the pursuit of power.
Today’s Conservative Party is the result of a merger between the Populist Reform Party (later the Canadian Alliance) and the Progressive Conservatives, who understood that as long as they were divided they could not not be a viable alternative to the Liberals.
Rather than having two separate parties representing different segments of the same ideology, the finer points of disagreement are eliminated internally within the same party. The Harper years could not have happened without this conjunction.
This merger model is a possible path for the Greens and the New Democrats. What a common “green democratic” party could be is a united front affirming a clear, coherent and viable progressive alternative to the neoliberal policies of our ruling parties. Its ideal form for these times would be one that strongly embraces the ideas of the Green New Deal.
The other model is to leave them as separate parties, but to have them represent policies that are Actually different – not just in degrees of ambition but in ideological values.
The advantage here would be to broaden the Canadian political spectrum and introduce important ideas into our politics that are not there.
Of the two parties, it would make more sense for the NDP to continue to maintain the strong Social Democrat. But the Greens, needing to rebuild themselves after the disastrous results of the last elections, would become something with a different identity. This would stem from the realization that in the 21st century, the ecological wisdom and participatory democracy that the party has traditionally championed must involve an approach to economics that is different from a compromise with capitalism.
There are a few forms that could take.
A first would be as a party that challenges the dominant economic orthodoxy of our time: that every economy must be based on endless compound growth. A new Green Party would integrate the concepts of a fair and participatory circular economy, drawing inspiration from the degrowth movement and the “safe and fair” framework to end poverty while living in an environmentally sustainable way, probably the most accessible in the pages of Kate Raworth Donut Economy.
Ecosocialism is the second form that a new environmentalist party could take. Some of the groundwork was done in the last leadership contest, which saw a number of eco-socialist candidates come forward, including Dmitri Lascaris, who came in second.
Again, the primary goal, especially as long as Canada remains a first past the post system, would not be electoral success (which the last two iterations of the Green Party have failed to achieve anyway) . Rather, it would be playing a long game in introducing a stream of unrepresented political ideas into the Canadian collective consciousness. And it’s a mission that could prevent this new Green Party from running candidates against NDP rivals who are adopting strong climate policies in this time of crisis.
Anjali Appadurai was not alone that night.
Alejandra Bravo, NDP candidate in the Toronto riding of Davenport, was endorsed by 350.org Canada as a climate champion. And like Appadurai, Bravo also lost to a liberal opponent – by just 76 votes, in this case. Meanwhile, the green candidate for that riding won over 1,000 votes.
And there is good reason to believe that, without change, this will continue to happen. (There were four other ridings where, if Green voters had instead voted for the NDP candidate backed by 350.org, it would have brought that candidate closer to the Liberal winner: Halifax, Laurier — Sainte-Marie, Parkdale — High Park, and West Vancouver — Sunshine Coast — Sea to Sky Country.)
The 2021 election must be the last where this sort of thing can happen. We do not have the luxury of giving climate leaders time to be unnecessarily sidelined from Parliament.