For citizens who want to vote positively rather than strategically, by-elections are a beautiful thing. They offer voters an opportunity to select a candidate without concern over the effect this will have on the makeup of the government.
On Monday (March 17), Canadians in four federal ridings, including Vancouver Quadra, will elect new members of Parliament. This time, the Liberals should win at least three of the ridings, including Toronto Centre, where Bob Rae is running. Voters in Willowdale, Ontario, will likely elect former Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay, and the front-runner in Vancouver Quadra is Liberal Joyce Murray, the onetime minister of water, land, and air protection in the Gordon Campbell government. Barring any major upsets, Tuesday should be a good day for Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, especially if his party retains Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River in Saskatchewan.
No matter who wins, Stephen Harper will still be prime minister the following morning. Archconservative Stockwell Day will continue as the minister of public safety. Vancouver Kingsway MP David Emerson will still head a cabinet committee on Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
The Georgia Straight is offering recommendations to help readers who don’t follow elections closely. Based on our analysis and attendance at three all-candidates meetings, there are two good options in Vancouver Quadra.
It’s natural to want to punish the Harper government for its muzzling of federal scientists; the odious Bill C-10, which could undermine financing of local film and video productions (see Movie Notes); and the prime minister’s willingness to ramp up the so-called war on drugs and undermine harm-reduction measures. Some might like the Harper government’s two-percent reduction in the goods and services tax—despite the criticism heaped upon this idea by many economists—or its legislative crackdown on crime. The public is divided on the mission in Afghanistan, which the Conservatives have pushed. But voters also shouldn’t overlook the Conservatives’ hypocrisy on the federal accountability legislation, which doesn’t come close to meeting the promises made in their own campaign literature. If there’s any doubt, go to the Democracy Watch Web site.
The Conservative candidate in Vancouver Quadra, Deborah Meredith, missed several all-candidates meetings for the by-election, including two attended by the Straight. Donald Gordon, a founder of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, said at one such meeting that it was easier to arrange a meeting with the premier than it was to get some face time with Meredith, a lawyer and an instructor at the Sauder School of Business.
In 2004, the Conservatives ran with the slogan “Demand Better” to draw attention to Liberal scandals. Perhaps now it’s time for the voters of Vancouver Quadra to demand better of themselves than to vote for a Conservative candidate who skips all-candidates meetings.
The Liberal candidate, Joyce Murray, talks a good game. She constantly mentions her 1992 MBA thesis on global warming, which called upon Canada to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. It was ahead of its time. However, her record as a cabinet minister in the first term of the Gordon Campbell government at times harks back to Jurassic Park.
Despite Murray’s proclamations about promoting environmental stewardship, her government went along with harebrained schemes, such as coal-fired power plants and coalbed methane projects, that would achieve the opposite effect. During the first term of the Campbell government, the Straight chronicled incredible environmental destruction in northeastern B.C., where a rush for natural-gas reserves was launched. The ministry of water, land, and air protection, which Murray headed, lost more than 1,000 civil servants during her tenure, according to numbers contained in the government’s budget estimates. A moratorium on new fish farms was lifted. A ban on grizzly-bear hunting was cancelled during the first term of the Campbell government. Murray was regularly unavailable for comment when the Straight called her ministry seeking explanations for various environmental policies.
Later in the first term of the Campbell government, Murray was transferred to become minister of government management services, overseeing one of the most insidious systems in North America for tracking freedom-of-information requests. This ministry, under Murray’s tutelage, actually ranked access requests on a “sensitivity” scale. More sensitive requests took longer to process.
The Campbell government also gained notoriety for policies that made life much more difficult for women, a topic twice featured on the cover of the Georgia Straight. Murray never publicly opposed these measures, which included cancelling funding for women’s centres and reducing welfare payments to single moms after their kids turned three years old.
There’s always a temptation to vote Liberal to stop the Harper Conservatives. It’s not necessary in Vancouver Quadra, which might be the safest Liberal riding in the province. The Liberals won with 49.1 percent of the vote in 2006 and 52.4 percent of the vote in 2004. If Murray manages to flame out as she did in her last two attempts to win public office, in the 2005 provincial election and the 2006 federal election, it will suggest that the party will probably need a new leader.
Besides which, the Liberals have already proven in Ottawa that they won’t stop the Harper Conservatives. Liberals backed the prime minister’s decision to extend the Afghanistan mission to 2011 and have refused to topple the government even though it is contradicting medical research and taking a punitive approach to drug addiction, which will result in more deaths in Vancouver.
The NDP candidate, UBC student Rebecca Coad, is an articulate political street fighter who relishes ripping into the Liberals’ propensity to play footsie with the Conservative government. She delights in calling Dion the leader of the
She is also a transit rider who speaks with conviction about addressing inequality in our society. Her party has the most comprehensive approach to addressing homelessness. She has little chance of winning, but if she pulled off an upset victory, you can be sure she would raise hell in Ottawa and probably work extremely hard for her constituents.
However, we’re not recommending Coad, for a couple of reasons. The environment is extremely important to the voters of Vancouver Quadra, and the federal NDP has refused to promote a carbon tax. In this one respect, its climate-change policy is more regressive than that of one MLA for the area, Premier Gordon Campbell.
In addition, the NDP declined the Straight’s request for Coad to pose for a photo with Green party candidate Dan Grice that would have appeared on the cover of this week’s paper. This was an opportunity to highlight the role of young people in politics in Metro Vancouver, and the NDP flatly refused to go along with the idea.
Despite Coad’s hard work as a candidate, the NDP organization isn’t doing everything it can to win this by-election. NDP leader Jack Layton and local MPs such as Bill Siksay and Libby Davies have so far not injected themselves into the campaign in a major way. In most elections, the NDP bombards reporters with news releases, scoops, and media conferences, but not this time. There is the occasional release, such as one issued on March 11 trashing the Liberals. Coad’s Web site carries an endorsement by local firefighters.
The NDP is likely to lose all four by-elections on Monday, so it’s no surprise that the party wants to play down the importance of this campaign. Refusing to allow Coad to pose for the cover of the Straight with the Green candidate makes sense when seen in this light. If the NDP isn’t putting out for the voters of Vancouver Quadra, why should the voters put out for the NDP?
The NDP too often practises politics as if it’s an exclusive club. And if you’re not a member of its club, the NDP sometimes won’t work with you. Witness the NDP’s eagerness to attack Liberals, often more vehemently than Conservatives. It is a dangerous attitude in light of the magnitude of the challenges posed by climate change. It helps explain why the federal party has sometimes done a poor job of reaching out to some immigrant communities and people of colour in Vancouver.
So that leads us to the Green candidate, Grice, a 27-year-old business-technology consultant and electoral-reform advocate. He sometimes lacks gravitas, cracking jokes from the stage at all-candidates meetings. He also doesn’t talk enough about the inequalities in our society. However, that is offset by his dedication to creating a new, more inclusive type of politics. He’s earnest, hard-working, passionate, and very well informed about issues of major importance to the country, including climate change, peak oil, alternative energy, and international development. He doesn’t take pleasure in smearing his opponents, preferring the more positive approach of highlighting solutions.
Grice was a member of the UBC student government a few years ago that helped bring in the U-Pass, which resulted in dramatically lower transit fares for students. He’s a fiery and knowledgeable advocate for a carbon tax, suggesting it should be $50 per tonne. He is genuinely outraged by the provincial Gateway program. And as a new-media producer, he makes an articulate case for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to expand opportunities for independent content providers.
Grice, a UBC graduate in classical archaeology, didn’t perform at his best at an all-candidates meeting sponsored by the Dunbar Residents’ Association, but he showed significant improvement in subsequent appearances at St. James Community Square in Kitsilano and at UBC’s Cecil Green Park House. Newspaper columnist and NDP apologist Bill Tieleman has brought attention to Grice for speaking out in favour of a perfectly sensible idea: marijuana legalization. Tieleman has also tried to discredit Grice because his leader, Elizabeth May, wanted to delay a nomination meeting in Vancouver Quadra to try to find a candidate with a higher profile. Memo to Tieleman: Delta North NDP MLA Guy Gentner once pursued a nomination against the wishes of the party elites, eventually winning the seat.
Based on the available evidence, we’re recommending a vote for Grice, notwithstanding Coad’s greater passion for the underprivileged. A vote for Grice will send a message to every federal party that it’s time for a carbon tax. A vote for Grice will strengthen Green party leader Elizabeth May’s sensible argument that she should be allowed to participate in the televised federal leaders’ debates before the next general election. A vote for Grice will announce to the country that the first-past-the-post system is an anachronism that undermines democracy and public participation. A vote for Grice will warn New Democrats that they should work cooperatively with environmentalists rather than engaging in drive-by smears.
Finally, a vote for Grice will reward a young man who has worked extremely hard and sacrificed making money because he wants to save the planet. Isn’t this a good enough reason for anyone who lives in Vancouver Quadra to make the relatively minor effort of visiting a polling station on Monday and placing an X on the ballot?
There are two other candidates for those who can’t stomach any of the four major parties. The quixotic Psamuel Frank of the Canadian Action Party is an opponent of continental integration and the Security and Prosperity Partnership, and a supporter of perpetual elections, whatever that means. And for voters who want to have some fun, there’s always John Turner of neorhino.ca—not to be mistaken for a previous MP who represented Vancouver Quadra, former prime minister John Turner.