Why I’m Green: Jeff Wheeldon
One of the things that we hope to do with this blog is give Greens a place to share their own journey into becoming a member of the Green Party, or supporting the Greens, or simply becoming more interested in sustainable living (because not all Greens are members of the Green Party!). I’ll start, but I welcome your stories – drop us a line, and we’ll publish your story about why you’re Green.
For me, “Why are you Green?” is a two-part question. The first part of the question is, why do you want to be involved in politics at all? Sadly, too many Canadians aren’t able to find a good answer to that question, and have stopped engaging in politics. I’ve certainly been there, struggling with the feeling that my vote doesn’t count or that the system is stacked against me. I grew up in BC, where we often felt that federal elections were decided long before our polling stations closed because the large majority of seats are in Quebec and Ontario; and I grew up in a generation that often felt like our parents (the baby boomers) owned the world and weren’t interested in our ideas. I don’t know how much I actually believed either of those things, but they were common attitudes in my area and age group, and politics sometimes felt like a senseless struggle to me. (One of the things that I hope to do as an MP is keep my constituents up to date with everything that’s going on in Parliament, so that it doesn’t feel like a senseless struggle to you.) But as hard as it is to get the millions of people across this enormous country to work together, the idea that politics is how we work together for the good of everyone is a powerful and important idea that I simply can’t ignore. We often hear people talk about “the government” as a “them”, but I think that’s a cynical view: government has to be “us”, or it’s completely broken. If it’s not “us”, then we need to work together to take it back.
So I can’t stand aside and let politics happen without me. As a voter, I had to make a choice of who would best represent me, and I would do that based on the candidates running; but as someone who wanted to be even more involved, I also needed to choose a party. Which is the second part of the question “Why am I Green?” I’m sure I could write a whole series of blog posts about this (and I may yet), but for now I’ll keep it to a few key points.
1. Respect for the Environment.
The Green Party is known for being an environmentalist party, and that term carries a lot of baggage. For some people it means that we’re an activist party; for others it means that we’re a hippie party; for others it means that we’re opposed to industry. None of these things are true, though I’m sure that there are members of the Green Party who hold some variations on those views. The Green Party’s stance on the environment is far more comprehensive and positive than any of those stereotypes. When I read Vision Green (the party platform) I discovered how comprehensive and integrated the environmental vision of the Green Party is, and it stood out drastically from the other parties’ approaches to the environment.
The other parties treat the environment as if it’s one issue. For the Conservatives, the environment is largely a resource to be used for our benefit. That’s true, but reducing it to just that one aspect leads to all sorts of environmental catastrophes, in which case environment becomes something the Conservative government has to overcome or balance with industry. That’s a false dichotomy that we can avoid by careful planning and smart industry.
For the NDP, the environment is the source of our health. This makes sense coming from the party that brought us universal healthcare, and I appreciate their attention to pollution and climate change, but it’s not much more integrated than the Conservative understanding of the environment: it’s one issue in relation to others, with which a balance must be struck.
For the Liberals, the environment is a jewel in Canada’s crown, part of what makes Canada…Canada. The environment is to be respected and enjoyed, with the wilderness an important part of the Canadian identity. That’s all well and good for rhetoric, but when it comes to policy they’re somewhere between the NDP and Conservatives, trying to balance a healthy environment with a healthy economy and every other issue.
These attempts to balance the environment, as one static issue, with every other issue we face won’t work. The environment is not an issue, it’s at the core of everything we do. There is not a single thing that human beings do that doesn’t depend on the environment. It’s not something to be protected as we invest in agriculture, it is agriculture – the soil and water and nutrients and climate in which we grow our food. It’s not something to be balanced with natural resources (as our current Cabinet does, with a Minister of Environment and a Minister of Natural Resources), it is our natural resources: air and water and trees and minerals and oil, and all of the ecosystem services that these provide when we don’t disrupt them too much. Yes, it’s foundational to healthcare: food and pollution are the two greatest impacts on human health – but it’s much more than that. And yes, our great wilderness is a treasured part of Canadian identity, but it’s not a jewel to show off, it’s where we (and trillions of other creatures) live, and it’s what supports our life in all of its aspects.
The Green Party integrates attention to and concern for the environment with every other issue because, quite simply, that’s reality. In a Green government there would be no need for a Minister of the Environment, because Green policies all take the environment into account. That’s smart, and it caught my attention. What clinched my choice to go Green, though, was…
2. Respect for Canadians and Parliament
About five years ago I read Losing Confidence by Elizabeth May. In it, she describes the Canadian political system as it was designed to be, and as it currently is; we’ve diverged quite far from the system that was created to govern our nation. The change happened gradually, and without breaking any written laws or rules. The result is that there is currently more power in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which originally was just the PM and a secretary, than there has ever been; that there are now distinct levels of power for Members of Parliament, with the Cabinet having a large concentration of the power and the PM leading the Cabinet, while back-benchers (both in the government and in the opposition) are often unable to effectively represent their constituencies; and politics has become dominated by partisanship, with heckling being a daily occurrence in the House of Commons, constant attack ads even outside of election season, and MPs being dominated by their party leaders through party discipline (also known as whipped votes). The combination makes politics into an ugly game played by elites, rather than a system for the representation of all Canadians. These changes happened, and continue to happen, through a lack of understanding of and respect for parliamentary tradition, and in turn it translates into a lack of respect within Parliament, and most of all a lack of respect for Canadians who are no longer properly represented and increasingly disenfranchised. Unfortunately, these things have only worsened since Losing Confidence was published.
Reading Losing Confidence inspired me to engage more deeply with politics, to help fix a broken system and return it to what it was supposed to be. This made the Green Party a clear choice. The Green Party of Canada engages in politics as it was meant to be, showing respect for the system and the traditions that back it by adhering to them in spite of the fact that there are no written rules requiring us to do so. For example, the Green Party of Canada is the only party that doesn’t enforce party discipline (“whip the vote”), allowing their MPs to vote on issues based on what is best for their constituency, or even based on their consciences, rather than just the will of their leader (MPs from other parties are told how to vote on virtually every bill). The Green Party has a rule of respectful conduct: we do not heckle in the House of Commons, and we do not run attack ads. These kinds of things are childish and disrespectful, and do not fit the solemn and representative nature of Members of Parliament, who are supposed to not only represent Canadians but also represent the best in Canadians as we work together for all of our benefit. And the Green Party is the only party that is consistently open to working across party lines, recognizing that we’re all on Team Canada and that political parties are not an inherent part of our political system.
So I recognized that the Green Party is the party that most respects and represents the way that politics is supposed to work in Canada. If I wanted to be involved, it was the only party I could really be involved in and feel like I was taking part in a real democracy. But parliamentary traditions are not the only traditions that I cared about: I also had to make sure that the party I joined respected my traditions, and the traditions of others around me. Just as I didn’t want to be two-faced in Parliament, I didn’t want to be two-faced in my everyday life, holding values from my faith that contrasted or conflicted with the values of my party.
3. The Faith Test
Before I joined a party, I wanted to make sure that it did not conflict with my faith. I am a Christian in the Protestant tradition, my undergraduate degree was in Biblical Theology and my MA was in Systematic Theology. I am inspired to engage in politics in large part by my faith: I believe that representing others and meeting their needs, and ensuring that governments and institutions do not exceed their functions, is a profoundly Christian vocation (which is not to say that non-Christians cannot do it, only that I feel inspired and compelled to do this as a way of following Christ). I do not believe that the vision of the Christian Heritage Party, which seeks a type of Christendom in which we create a “Christian nation”, is a) possible (Christendom fell for a reason, Calvin’s Geneva was a failure, and enforced Christianity is unethical for someone representing a multi-cultural and multi-faith constituency), or b) faithful to Scripture, theology, or Christian ethics as I understood them from my studies and experience (I’m happy to elaborate on that – send me a message if you’d like to talk!). And because of that, I don’t believe that there is a “Christian party” in any meaningful sense. It was only an issue of how well each party’s policies aligned with my faith, and whether or not my faith would be welcome in that party.
It helps that Elizabeth May is a Christian. Most politicians claim faith, but Elizabeth was almost finished a Master of Divinity degree and working toward ordination as a priest in the Anglican Church when she decided to run for leadership of the Green Party. She sees her political engagement as an expression of her faith, and the similarity of her story to mine in this regard gave me some confidence that I could fit well with the Green Party. But what about the party’s policies?
No member of any organization understands or agrees with all policies in the same way or to the same degree, so I didn’t expect a perfect match (and thankfully, the Green Party’s commitment to not whip the vote means that I don’t have to compromise my conscience for the sake of my party), but I looked for broad general agreement. One of the biggest reasons that I became interested in environmental sustainability was because I understand humanity to be responsible for caring for the earth: this is one task that all human beings have been given, it’s the job we were created for and out of which all of human culture and society is born. In this way the Green approach of integrating environmental concerns with every other issue makes sense to me, as a fundamental expression of a fundamental aspect of my theology. My faith also compels me to care for the poor, the outsider, the Other; and to be a responsible steward of the resources I’ve been given: the Green Party subscribes to the Global Greens Charter, which explicitly recognizes that there is no ecological justice without social and economic justice. The Global Greens are also committed to nonviolence, which is an increasingly powerful aspect of my own faith and theology. So the Green Party fits well with my faith and theology, allowing me to see involvement in the party and the political process as an expression of my faith. There are a few policies that I’d like to see tightened up, but none that conflict with my beliefs or conscience. I’m happy to discuss any particular Green policies that you’re interested in hearing about in relation to my faith.
This ended up being an enormous post, but I hope it gives you some sense of why I’m Green. Share your stories with us! Send an email to the Green Party Provencher, or to me, or leave a comment below saying that you’d like to share your story, and we’ll be happy to get back to you and get your story up on this blog!