Mark Leiren-Young: What's green about the NDP?

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      In 1996, I wrote a story for the Georgia Straight about how, if Gordon Campbell lost that election to Glen Clark, it was because he couldn’t play nicely with other right-wingers.

      If the NDP loses this election it’ll be because they can’t play nicely with environmentalists.

      As nervous NDPers ask why any “progressive” would trust the Greens, I can’t help wondering why any environmentalist would trust the NDP?

      Every time I ask dyed-in-orange friends what exactly the party has done on the eco-front they cite the Holy Agricultural Land Reserve (Blessed Be) the same way the federal party answers every possible question with “Medicare” (Praise Tommy). Yes, the ALR was awesome, but since the bygone days of Saint Dave Barrett what exactly is the NDP’s claim to being environmentally friendly?

      The “War in the Woods” was fought by Mike Harcourt.

      It wasn’t the Socreds or Liberals who declared environmentalists “enemies of British Columbia”, it was the NDP’s Glen Clark.

      Carole James cynically campaigned on a campaign to axe B.C.’s globally admired carbon tax—torching her party’s environmental platform to kick off her bid to run the province.

      B.C.’s former future Premier, Adrian Dix, was so committed to the NDP’s environmental stance that he called an audible on Kinder Morgan mid-campaign.

      People used to joke about Wild Bill Vander Zalm writing policies on a napkin. Apparently, he loaned his leftover napkins to the last few NDP leaders so they could have somewhere to scribble their environmental policies.

      Jolly John Horgan was initially undecided on Kinder Morgan, then he read the tea leaves—and the polls showing the Green Party wasn’t going away—and found religion on pipelines. As someone who is voting on the issue of #stopkm in the hopes of saving our Southern Resident orcas I’m thrilled by Horgan’s change of heart. And smart people I trust like Tzeporah Berman believe Horgan’s Come to Suzuki moment on KM is genuine. Like Fox Mulder I desperately want to believe. But I’m not sold. Neither, apparently, is David Suzuki.

      I’d hoped to ask Horgan about this on my new podcast. The Liberals at least responded to my requests. I think every Liberal I contacted responded and politely told me that their leader was too busy and that we could likely line something up after the election. Team Orange… not so much with the responding… other than a long-time friend who works for the NDP, no one even acknowledged my repeated interview requests. I was told by a couple of other members of the media with more mojo than myself that a lack of response to interview requests from the NDP wasn’t at all surprising—which I personally found both surprising and disturbing.

      NDP has troubled history with green movement

      During the War in the Woods I remember jokingly asking the most radical environmentalist I’d ever met who he was voting for and when he said, “Socred,” it was the most hilarious thing I’d ever heard. Then I realized he was serious. His only voting issue was saving our forests and he believed the Socreds would bow to market forces and the market could be pressured to boycott B.C. lumber, but the NDP would cut down the last tree in B.C. if the IWA asked them to.

      I stuck with my hero Mike Harcourt, but ever since “axe the tax” I’ve joked that the Liberals would frack Queen Elizabeth Park for enough corporate coin and the NDP would frack it for 50 union jobs. Then I went to the polling booth, marked my X for the NDP and hoped I was wrong, but never quite believed in my heart that I was. I’ve voted for the NDP in every B.C. election since I’ve been eligible to make an X, but I’ve never believed they were paragons of virtue—okay, maybe under Harcourt and Ujjal Dosanjh.

      I have no doubt at all that George Heyman, David Eby, Nathan Cullen, Spencer Chandra Herbert, Gary Holman, Nick Simons, and many other NDP candidates bleed green—and if any of them were leading the party I suspect the B.C. Greens would have had a tough time fielding a slate of candidates or very many volunteers. When Dix was defenestrated I was planning to join the NDP so I could vote for a new eco-minded leader, but the New Democrats' not-so-democratic party brass were more interested in anointing an insider, so they shut down the possibility of new candidates signing up new members because, you know, democracy’s messy.

      Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt presided over and eventually brought an end to the War in the Woods.

      Instead of a wide-open leadership race and policy debates over how to reconcile labour and environmental issues (you know, the debate the federal NDP is having courtesy of LEAP), Horgan—a veteran of team “axe the tax”—was anointed. Horgan may have been the right angry white guy to fire up the faithful, but he wasn’t the obvious choice to woo ozone-huggers back into the fold.

      In federal elections NDP partisans are adamant that you should vote with your conscience and damn the polls, even when that meant a likelihood of electing Steve Harper. But in B.C. NDPers are arguing that they deserve every anti-Liberal vote by divine right and polls showing the Greens in third place should be taken as gospel.

      Instead of appealing to Green-leaning voters by doubling down on their green stance—or even clarifying their plan to stop Kinder Morgan—the strategy seems to be focusing on the alleged sins of Green leader Andrew Weaver and insulting his would-be voters as naïve or stupid.

      I’ve got no clue how Weaver used to vote, but declaring him a Liberal because he helped advise them on climate policy is pretty dodgy. People from all party affiliations “consult” for any government that asks to have an impact on policy.

      Yes, Weaver supported the first two Liberal budgets—which is cited as proof of his Liberal leanings except when I asked his office about this I was told when Weaver was campaigning he promised to support the first budget of whichever party was elected because they were the government the province had voted for. He felt the second budget worked for his Oak Bay constituents. Make of those answers what you will, but he has not supported a Liberal budget since taking over as leader of the Greens—which certainly isn’t how this accusation is presented—and since landing top job he has almost always either voted with the NDP or against both the Liberals and the NDP.

      The Greens aren’t whipped? Well, the NDP certainly is. They’re so whipped that members don’t even get to elect their own leader and prefer coronations and coups.

      NDP needs a third party to win 

      Weaver campaigned to defeat Carole James in her riding after she fought to dismantle the carbon tax he’d helped design and replace it with hot air? Shocking!

      James is the Dr. Frankenstein of B.C. politics. First she brought the NDP back from the dead—reviving them from an all-time low of two seats—which would be exactly one more seat than the I Have a Dream Weavers currently hold. Then she resuscitated the B.C. Greens by giving them a raison d’être—gift-wrapped proof that the NDP played politics with environmentalists the way Lucy played football with Charlie Brown.

      Carole James gave sustenance to two parties: Dave Barrett's NDP and the B.C. Greens.

      As she swung her axe, James stopped just shy of repeating Glen Clark’s accusation that environmentalists were the enemies of British Columbia. And I stopped just shy of voting for a Green party I’d earlier argued shouldn’t be in the game pulling votes from the fantastic NDP incumbent I’d performed at a fundraiser for in an election where I was writing campaign speeches for another NDP candidate. People talk about holding your nose and voting Socred or Liberal. That election I held my nose and voted NDP.

      And the saddest part was that NDP leaders knew “axe the tax” was morally and environmentally indefensible. They apologized for it and disavowed their stance immediately after they lost the election. But hey, it was a wickedly cool soundbite, I’m sure some smart pollster thought it’d help them swing a few rural ridings. Actually, I know their strategists thought that because I was at a pub with a couple of them, argued that they were basically reviving the Greens from the dead and would have been fired from their campaign if I’d been getting paid.

      The NDP has never won in B.C. without a third party drawing from the province’s right-wing champions du jour. Harcourt landed in the premier’s seat with 41 percent of the vote. Glen Clark ran the province with a whopping 39 percent. So with the B.C. Tories gone, the Greens are the only place the "anybody but NDP" vote can go other than staying with Corporate Christy. And regardless of who was running the right wing party du jour there has always been a sizeable “anybody but NDP” vote in B.C.

      In a two-party race the NDP has historically been DOA, so even if the B.C. Liberals helped pump the Greens tires to split the Not So Liberal vote, with the Tories out of the game the B.C. NDP desperately needs Weaver in play to provide a home for voters who would rather be dead than orange. Why does nothing rhyme with orange? If you took the Greens off the ballot tomorrow, Clark could likely take million-dollar bribes on live TV, kick a dog or three, and still cruise to victory.

      And that’d be why the NDP brain trust has always done everything in their power to paint the Greens as Liberal-lite.

      And maybe they are—but not on the environmental file. The file the Suzuki Foundation and other eco-groups gave the Greens top marks for.

      And that’s the issue everyone should be voting on in the 21st century. 

      And that’s a file the NDP hasn’t done enough to own because union priorities and environmental priorities tend to mix about as well as oceans and bitumen. Just look at the federal scene where the NDP currently runs the risk of imploding over LEAP.

      Weaver inserts environment into political mix

      Meanwhile, Weaver has already moved the dial on the province’s number one environmental issue. Does anyone truly believe Horgan would have unequivocally switched to #stopkm if the third party in B.C. this election were provincial Tories?

      If you buy that I’ve got a toll free bridge to sell you.

      Mark Leiren-Young doesn't accept NDP arguments that a vote for Andrew Weaver's Greens is going to help Christy Clark retain power.

      I attended an all-candidates debate in Victoria recently where the NDP’s Gary Holman and the Green’s Andy MacKinnon were polite, respectful, and not only didn’t demonize each other’s parties, but when Weaver’s stance on run of rivers was brought up, it was Holman who said the Green leader was being misrepresented. And I thought…if this was how the NDP played with Greens, both parties would have spent more time this election trashing a Liberal government that’s long past its best-before date, Green-leaning voters would be more likely to swing NDP in the polling booth and Green candidates might do what they did in the last B.C. election and throw their support behind their neighbourhood NDP flag bearer.

      Instead, Green voters in B.C. seem to be taking more heat from NDP leaders and supporters than proud Liberals and the more they’re accused of being closet Christy fans for voting for Weaver the deeper they’re likely to dig in.

      The night Glen Clark won the ’96 election my editor at the Straight was warned that it would be a bad idea for me to show up at Liberal party headquarters, so I covered the NDP celebration instead.

      I’m guessing I’ve just lost my shot at an election night invite to Horgan HQ and I’m sure my social media feeds are going to be delightful after this is posted.

      If I had to put money on this election I’d say the best Weaver can hope for if all the splits line up his way is just over a half dozen seats and the balance of power in a minority government. If that happens—and Horgan really is keen on green—then Jolly John should be able to convince the Greens to put him in the premier’s office, regardless of whether Clark scores more seats. But the NDP would have to extend an olive branch and so far it looks like all Horgan’s ever offered Weaver is poison ivy.

      There’s always a price for third-party support. With the NDP I’d guess it’d be backing down on love for liquefied natural gas—a stance most lower case greens in the party would be delighted to see Horgan change. With the Liberals, I’d hope that to earn his backing Clark would at least have to #stopkm. Although, hey, Weaver claims he’s in it to win it and as crazy as that sounds, most Canadians would have bet on the tar sands freezing over before the NDP was elected to run Alberta.

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