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Up for debate

Editorial by Bruce Wark

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Welcome to Election 2006! Ah yes, developers are putting up monster homes in the suburbs. Construction is going full speed ahead on a Super Mall in Dartmouth. Rush-hour roads are jammed with fuel-gulping SUVs, minivans and trucks. And, the Canadian TV networks have again decided to bar the Green Party from the TV leaders’ debates. Ah yes, a handful of unelected TV execs say party leader Jim Harris will not be allowed to participate in the two TV debates before Christmas or the two after it. Yet, taxpayers are shelling out over $1 million a year to support the Greens thanks to a new financing law which gives political parties more than $1.75 for every vote they receive. That hefty subsidy goes to parties which get at least two percent of the vote. In 2004, the Greens received 4.3 percent. More than half a million Canadians voted Green. Why shouldn’t voters have a chance to compare Jim Harris to the other leaders?

Mind you, I’m not raising this question because I’m a fervent Harris supporter. Far from it. As I pointed out last month, many Greens are angry at Harris for abandoning the Global Greens Charter. The 6,000-word Charter was adopted in 2001 in Canberra, Australia, at a conference attended by Green parties from 70 countries. It explicitly links the degradation of the environment to a systematic denial of social justice and democracy. The Charter calls on the world’s industrial nations to abandon “the dogma of economic growth at any cost and the excessive and wasteful use of natural resources.” It accuses the richest countries of exploiting the world’s poor and advocates “closing the gap between rich and poor and building a citizenship based on equal rights for all.”

Jim Harris’s Green Party takes a softer approach. The Party’s platform (not yet publicly available) contains dozens of promises. Some are specific, such as promised legislation to require the labelling of genetically-engineered foods. Others are vague, such as a commitment “to work with provinces and higher learning institutions to reduce post-secondary tuitions.” Progressive measures such as ensuring access to abortion services “in all Canadian jurisdictions,” are offset by regressive ones such as a clumsily-worded promise to “decriminalize non-compliance with the national firearms registry for firearms designed for hunting.” The Party’s anti-poverty proposals are especially weak. There are vague promises to boost minimum wages, raise EI benefits and expand child tax credits, but no mention of the need to increase welfare rates, now well below the poverty line.

Jim Harris’s approach is hardly surprising. When he’s not campaigning for the Greens, Harris runs his own company called Strategic Advantage. It offers leadership seminars to a wide range of clients including banks, retailers and drug manufacturers. The company’s website lists dozens of reference letters from satisfied customers including this one from an organizer of a petroleum conference in Calgary. “I felt that the delegates left the Conference with an inspirational motivation to continue developing leading-edge technology in the petroleum sector,” the letter says. Harris promises to help his clients understand “cutting-edge leadership” so that they can “achieve the greatest possible security within a dynamic and changing marketplace.” His company slogan proclaims: “We work to change the world by changing ourselves and by helping our clients change.” But Harris’s critics say his brand of change is sharply different from the Global Charter’s call for “cooperation rather than competition” and its assertion of “the need for fundamental changes in people’s attitudes, values, and ways of producing and living.”

I’d say that voters deserve to know more about the controversy within the Green Party. They also deserve to see how its leader conducts himself before a national audience. The Green Party is widely associated with environmental issues that concern many voters. Jim Harris belongs on the TV debates. The Greens have an online petition urging the networks to let him participate. You can sign it at www.greenparty.ca.

Up for some participation? email: bwark@accesswave.ca or sign on at my homepage www.accesswave.ca/~bwark/ .

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