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Leaning Green: A left-wing party that tilts right on taxes?

Most people who follow politics in this country have a pretty good idea of where to situate the main national parties on the political spectrum: from left to right, the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives.

A poll taken last week suggests the Greens are threatening to intrude on that trio, particularly in B.C. where they may have briefly relegated the Liberals to fourth-party status in terms of the popular support. And with no NDP candidate running in the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, the Green candidate there is definitely a top-three contender.

But given that they have no voting record in parliament, what do we really know about where the federal Greens stand?

The release last month of the 157-page Vision Green prompted Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson to characterize the party’s platform as being “way, way out on the political left.”

Adriane Carr, the Green candidate for Vancouver Centre and the party’s deputy leader, laughed when she heard the quote.

“The reason [Simpson] is wrong is that our platform draws good ideas from any side of the old political spectrum if they’re good ideas,” she said.

She broadly characterizes her party as socially progressive and centre-right in fiscal matters.

But the distinction between social and fiscal matters is not always clear.

The University of British Columbia’s Paul Kershaw believes the Green Party’s income splitting proposal, whereby a couple would pay taxes on the average of their two salaries, “risks exploding a foundation for women’s equality in Canada” by encouraging lower earners – usually women – to stay home. And he worries about media reports suggesting the Greens are gaining support among women and urban voters.

“Regrettably, tax policy is complicated. So voters, urban women included, aren’t getting a chance to carefully scrutinize how the income splitting proposal will really set back the gender equality that most urban women want to take for granted,” according to Kershaw who lives on a small energy-efficient farm, grows most of his produce and uses transit to commute into the city.

Despite his concern for the environment, he says he will never vote Green so long as the party encourages income splitting.

That proposal is about the only thing Fraser Institute senior economist Niels Veldhuis likes in the Green platform. He believes income splitting would be an improvement over the current system where households with the same combined income shoulder different tax burdens. Even so, he’d rather see a single tax rate with a much higher base exemption. Otherwise, he says the government is punishing success.

Overall, Veldhuis thinks Green proposals like a carbon tax, a higher minimum wage and a shorter work week would be “very detrimental” to the Canadian economy. But pointing to recent corporate tax cuts instituted by an NDP government in Saskatchewan, he rejects traditional notions of left and right.

“One is right and one is wrong,” he said.

Political Compass is a website that tries to go beyond the simplistic left-right divide by adding another dimension: libertarian-authoritarian. Its 2008 election assessment suggests the Greens are Canada’s most centrist party, ever so slightly to the right and even more slightly leaning toward authoritarianism rather than libertarianism.

“The Greens, more fiscally conservative than most of their sister parties, also harbour significant left-right differences within their ranks,” according to the website.

Dennis Pilon, a political science professor at the University of Victoria, agrees with that take. He describes the party as a “very broad coalition” not unlike the Liberals, only with a firmer vision of the Green Shift. But it’s still too early to tell exactly how this mixing of left and right will play out.

“What typically happens is, if the party does get any influence, then there will be a battle to see which direction the party will go in,” he said. “Right now, no one’s forcing that battle because they haven’t won anything yet.”

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