With a federal election looming, voters who care about environmental issues should heed the roars of battle coming from within the Green Party of Canada. The internal fighting erupted publicly last week in Halifax when my good friend Michael Oddy, leader of the Nova Scotia Greens, confronted federal leader Jim Harris. Their clash came during an open meeting Wednesday evening at the Dalhousie law school. As about 40 onlookers listened, Oddy angrily denounced Harris for moving the Green Party to the right. “Hundreds of greens across the country have left the party in droves,” Oddy declared. Then, he read from his letter resigning from the Green Party shadow cabinet, a small federal body that has been crafting party policy. “Jim’s commitment to free market capitalism and hence the mainstreaming of the party has led to the betrayal of our commitment to the Global Green Charter. This right wing political philosophy has infiltrated every facet of the party, including platform and policy development.”
Harris answered calmly that the terms “left” and “right” are obsolete. The Green Party, he said, is trying to “straddle the centre” by campaigning for a government that is “fiscally responsible, socially progressive and committed to environmental sustainability.” Responding to Oddy’s charge that he has surrounded himself with former Conservatives who now set party policy, Harris said the term ‘conservative’ is derived from the word “conserve” and that conserving the natural environment is at the core of the green movement. Later, during an interview, he said that Michael Oddy is too focused on trying to achieve 50-year goals overnight. “If you say the only way that you can make any difference is by achieving the end goal immediately, in other words only by going off-grid, only by riding a bicycle, only by eating only organic, these are the positions of a fundamentalist,” Harris said, adding that what fundamentalists do is “alienate 99 percent of the public.”
Oddy, who identifies himself as a “left” green, says he’s not calling on people to go off-grid or ride bicycles. Instead he favours more spending on public transit, tax policies that discourage the burning of fossil fuels, greater investment in alternative energy and much tougher regulations to prevent industrial pollution. Oddy says he wishes the Green Party would spend more time raising issues rather than raising money—a reference to the new campaign financing law that grants parties slightly more than $1.75 for every vote they receive. In the 2004 federal election, the Green Party received nearly 600,000 votes, giving it an automatic annual income of over $1 million. Harris says he’s hoping that in the coming federal election, the party will attract enough votes to qualify for a yearly income of up to two-and-a-half million.During his speech at the Dal law school, Harris said it’s unacceptable that 1.1 million Canadian children live below the poverty line. But when asked later for specifics about what the Green Party would do to end child poverty, Harris declines to answer. “I cannot share that with you because that’s part of our platform and you’ll have to wait for the election. If I told you that, I would have to kill you,” he adds with a laugh. It’s the kind of answer that infuriates people like Dan Murray who helped found the Green Party in the early 1980s. Murray, who lives in Toronto, says it broke his heart to leave the party. “But there’s no grassroots democracy there anymore,” he says. “Jim Harris rules and he’s a right-wing Conservative. He’s hired a bunch of people who set policy.”
After leaving the Greens, Murray helped establish the Peace and Ecology Party of Canada. It describes itself as an activist party that actively supports the Global Green Charter. “I’d be really grateful if you’d put the party’s web address in your article,” he says. OK Dan! Here goes: peaceandecology.ca. Jim Harris’s Greens meanwhile can be found at: greenparty.ca. Dare to compare!
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