Why I’m Green: Blair Mahaffy
Like most Canadians I’ve done my duty every four or five years to head to the polls to vote in our federal elections. Only about 2% of Canadians are members of political parties; pretty much the standard in most Western countries. So what prompted me to member up with The Green Party of Canada and get involved in my Electoral District Association for the Greens? It is a rather long story.
Developing a Political Mindset
I grew up in a capital C Progressive Conservative household and, of course, like most kids, our only political compass was our parents. There is some evidence that my parents were caught up in Trudeau-mania but, by and large, we were Tory blue.
Lots of people probably remember the standard high school lesson on the political circle with the centre at the bottom and going around right and left to fascism and communism meeting at the top. It was pretty clear that there was a blue dot a little the right and an orange dot a little to the left and a red dot at the bottom. That tangible expression of political orientation had a big impact on me.
The very memorable teacher who taught that Canadian history class went on to be a Canadian Senator. A knowledgeable and inspiring teacher, part of her course required working for a political campaign in the 1979 federal election. She also inspired me to subscribe to Maclean’s magazine for the political content. Within a few years afterwards, I’d read Churchill’s 2nd World War history and his History of the English Speaking Peoples. The last gave me a very wide appreciation for the history of our democratic processes. Of course, I like to read fiction too. Some of the stuff with the biggest impact were books like 1984, Animal Farm, Hard Times, Brave New World, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol. Clearly, the social conscience stuff speaks to me.
In fact, I often remarked how Churchill’s “if you’re not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain” comment seemed to work backwards for me. I was starting to see the cracks in the conservative dogma. I still identified with my parents’ anti-union, tough on crime, and responsible money management position. It made so much sense to me. Businesses created jobs. If we didn’t keep the books balanced, how could you do things like fund healthcare or other social programs? I fell for the “poor just have to work harder” ideas that are still, and increasingly, very common on the right.
Joe Clark came and went. Trudeau came back. Turner. Mulroney. NAFTA seemed like a good idea at the time and, particularly in light of today’s corporations-win-all trade agreements, it was and still is a good thing to open up borders. Like the rest of the country, I wasn’t happy with the rest of Mulroney’s politics. While he sang on stage with Ronald Reagan, it was clear that North America was shifting to the right.
Around this time Preston Manning’s Reform party showed up. I honestly liked Preston Manning. He had some great ideas including much more freedom for MPs and a more grassroots involvement in the political process. I liked his down to earth approach and he seemed to really care about doing what was right and for the good of real people. I felt the shift to the right was, perhaps, a blip, and if more people were contributing to the political process it would moderate that shift. So the promise of Reform, of grassroots participation, of turning control back to the voters, was very attractive.
But the push to unite the right came along, Reform gave way to the Alliance. The bigots started crawling out of the woodwork and the splashy Stockwell Day with his penchant for showy consumerism and shallow talk turned me right off. It was clear, as Harper rose to power, that we had a problem. We could fill books with how the Conservative government has corrupted our democracy, thrown environmental protection to the wind, thrown our scientists under the bus, trashed our reputation in foreign affairs, and made our political landscape dirtier and less democratic. I never have been and never will be a supporter of the Conservative Party of Canada.
I was a adrift in the political landscape.
What a great opportunity to shop around! Like many Canadians, I wasn’t impressed with the outcome of Shawinigate. I kind of bought into the propaganda that Martin was as much the problem as Chrétien (although I suspect now he was a victim of dirty politics). I felt the Liberals, sitting solidly in the middle, were often too cautious and, in the name of playing both sides of the political spectrum, didn’t actually do a lot.
The NDP? Hmmm. Jack Layton was pretty impressive, and I’d been voting NDP for some time provincially because I felt they were more centre than they traditionally had been (Manitoba’s Doer was a rather blue shade of orange) and were probably better equipped to deal with social issues. But I wasn’t quite sure that I was ready to go that far left.
All this time I had been facing a growing realization that the old political circle wasn’t working out so well for me. I definitely felt that good fiscal management was important. That problems of crime must be handled with public protection in mind. That our traditions of good government and civil society be maintained. That our military (which I still perceived as peackeepers) should be well supported and equipped. So… right, right? But issues of poverty were not solved by making corporations rich. That social programs such as universal healthcare are a good thing; it is the epitome of the individual contributing to the greater good. That poverty reduction benefiting the less fortunate in our society benefits all of us. That working people need to be treated fairly and with dignity. That the war on drugs was an astounding failure. The conditions under which our indigenous people live were appalling. So… left, right?
And then there was growing concern over global warming, of the end of oil, of environmental degradation.
I saw myself spread across the traditional political spectrum with little bits of my values over on the right and some over on the left and some in the middle.
Then I saw a Green Party sign while I was driving one day so I went looking at their website.
This was not the one-issue party that I thought it was. Yes, the Greens are most definitely environmentalists. But I wouldn’t characterize their platform as being predominantly environmentalist. Perhaps that’s because the environment figures in to almost everything the Green Party talks about. Attempting to remove the environment from any discussion of economy, social programs, resource extraction, healthcare, foreign affairs or any other political topic, is kind of nonsense. Without the environment, we have nothing and we can’t operate outside of it.
If they are a single issue party, it might be more appropriate to call that issue “Sustainability”. The entire Green platform is structured around sustainability in all facets of our political discussion.
- Fiscally the Greens may be more conservative than the Conservatives. But Economically they may be the most progressive party on the field. Balanced budgets. Taxation that encourages sustainable economics. Sustainable resource extraction (note: not stopping it, but managing it). Replacing income tax with carbon tax.
- Justice policies that make sense. Public safety is important; dangerous offenders must be kept off the streets. But we start by keeping people out of prison. Restitution. Reducing Recidivism. Reducing poverty. Increasing Literacy. Rethinking that war on drugs.
- Foreign Affairs policies that takes back Canada’s reputation as an advocate for the poor and oppressed and rebuilds our status as a trusted negotiating partner and mediator. This is going to be a lot of work to earn back. In the face of increasing environmental degradation, it is critical that we fill this role instead of running off to drop bombs at the heels of the United States.
- Social Policies that are designed to sustain a free and healthy culture where people’s basic needs are looked after. This is the path to reduced crime, increased prosperity, and security.
- Democracy. This. People are so fed up with our system. Low voter turnout, especially amongst youth, does not bode well for a sustainable society. If we’ve lost our voice, we surrender it to political, and thus, corporate power.. The Greens are strong advocates for real democratic reform; proportional representation, free votes, more power to MPs and parliamentary committees and less power for the PMO and the “ruling” party.
- Open, Transparent, and Participatory Most impressively, these policies were right there on their website. In a great deal of detail. They aren’t cooked up prior to every election. They’re spelled out in the Vision Green document that is available for anyone to download. The document is changed over time, by proposals voted on by party members, to reflect ongoing discourse on party policy. It isn’t decided behind closed doors but right out in public for membership to see, judge, and contribute to.
I’ve been a member of the Green Party ever since.