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Unite? Greens, Grits Are Not 'Progressive'

Why I'm not buying into an electoral cooperation pact with New Democrats.

By Bill Tieleman 4 Dec 2012 |

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at or visit his blog.

"The reactionary is always willing to take a progressive attitude on any issue that is dead." -- U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt 1901-1909

"Unite the left! Have all progressive parties defeat Stephen Harper's evil Conservatives" is the rallying cry of a coalition of increasingly angry agitators.

But my reply is simple: Unite progressives my posterior!

The reality is that neither the federal Liberal nor Green parties are "left" or "progressive" -- and certainly not a merger match for the New Democratic Party.

And despite calls for lowest common denominator politics to defeat Harper, there's a fundamental problem even bigger than creating a cooperative voting coalition for just one election.

It's that the Anyone But Conservatives movement is based on removing voters' right to choose the party of their own liking.

This coercive and anti-democratic impulse is driven by the deluded desperation of Harper haters.

That's why it will never work.

But it hasn't stopped federal Liberal leadership contender Joyce Murray, the Vancouver-Quadra MP, from promoting the idea last week of joint nominations for just the 2015 election, followed by electoral system reform.

The concept behind it is also flawed, because believing that all social democratic NDP supporters would vote for a Liberal or Green candidate in their riding requires an ideological leap of logic.

Murray herself must be aware that many New Democrat voters wouldn't vote for her own candidacy, based on her past record as a Gordon Campbell cabinet minister responsible for cutting environmental protection in his first term as B.C. premier.

Splinters that splinter

And even if the three parties came to an agreement, it's likely some supporters would rebel and create other parties that matched their perspective. God forbid that the separatist Bloc Quebecois remnants have anything to do with it either.

In the case of the Liberals, we know that many of their voters would do exactly the opposite of the desired effect: they would vote for the Harper Conservatives rather than the NDP or Green candidate they were being asked to endorse.

Some Greens might do the same. After all, their previous national leader Jim Harris came from the Conservatives and current leader Elizabeth May once worked for the Conservative government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Alice Funke of Pundits' Guide has outlined the faulty logic that was highlighted when recent NDP leadership candidate and B.C. MP Nathan Cullen proposed joint nomination meetings where members would "co-operate with progressives across the political spectrum" to choose anti-Conservative candidates.

Despite Cullen's energetic campaign and the promotion of his idea by online activist group and others, he finished third and did not receive the mandate he wanted to pursue the concept.

In fact,'s new efforts to convince the Liberal Party to endorse cooperation as it heads to an April leadership vote has only garnered 17,000 supporters to date.

Adjusting to Justin

As for the Liberals' compatibility in even a temporary electoral coalition, just look at Liberal MP and dauphin Justin Trudeau's most recent pronouncements.

Trudeau supports the Chinese state-owned CNOOC oil company's proposed takeover of Calgary-based oil and gas producer Nexen because it's "good for Canada" -- without addressing the sell out of our resources or the issue of a Communist dictatorship increasingly owning big chunks of our economy.

Trudeau also now says that while he voted against the Conservatives' elimination of the long-gun registry, a Liberal government wouldn't even consider bringing back a valuable tool to prevent gun violence that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police wanted kept in place.

"The long-gun registry, as it was, was a failure and I'm not going to resuscitate that," Trudeau said. "There are better ways of keeping us safe than that registry which is, has been removed."

May's contradictions

Then there's Green Party leader Elizabeth May's constant contradictions on ecological and progressive issues.

How can any self-respecting Green look themselves in the environmental mirror after their calculating candidate in the Victoria by-election last month opposed a plant to treat the 130 million litres of raw sewage dumped into the Juan de Fuca Strait daily?

“Local scientists have cautioned us that the Strait of Juan de Fuca is a unique environment. Its special currents deal with the human waste naturally," Donald Galloway says on his website, adding that the plant is too expensive and doesn't deal with all contaminants.

The Greens were so sensitive to their flip-flop that when local celebrity sewage treatment activist James Skwarok -- who wears a brown costume to look like a giant piece of feces called Mr. Floatie -- showed up at a party event where David Suzuki appeared, Skwarok was flushed from the room.

"I was a bit bummed out," Skwarok told Canadian Press. "I was a bit shocked, actually, that they weren't in favour of Victoria's sewage treatment plan."

"I'm dismayed that so many candidates are against treatment," he said. "We spent the last five, six years carefully planning treatment for Victoria and we have the money now, so it's time to do it. It's 2012. It's not 1850."

(Skwarok, who retired his Mr. Floatie outfit after it appeared a treatment plant would finally be built, calls his new campaign a "second movement.")

Liberal candidate Paul Summerville also ran against the $783 million plant, saying: "There's no net environmental benefit to the plan that's being produced."

And Trudeau backed him up on that dubious deduction.

"I think we need to be worried about what the actual science says instead of what the ideology is," Trudeau told reporters.

Even Conservative candidate Dale Gann reversed himself, despite his own government offering to pay one-third of the costs, leaving only winning NDP candidate Murray Rankin to support a decades overdue decision to stop pumping untreated sewage via a long pipe out to sea -- something our American neighbours are furious about.

So much for the environmental commitment of Liberals and Greens.

Pro rep repelled

And what about the idea of a temporary cooperative coalition to vanquish the Tories and implement a new voting system with some form of proportional representation to ensure Harper's ilk can never again gain a majority?

Electoral system change from our current First Past the Post model has been rejected soundly in every province where a referendum has been held -- British Columbia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

(Disclosure: I successfully opposed the Single Transferable Vote proposal in both the 2005 and 2009 provincial election referenda as president of NO BC STV.)

A proposal to reject FPTP was also trounced in a referendum in England in 2011.

So the goal of a "progressive" party cooperation pact to facilitate changing the electoral system is hardly likely to garner national support.

None of this is to say parties cannot cooperate on key issues.

For example, the NDP, Liberals and Greens have all opposed the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, which is strongly backed by the Conservatives.

And if voters want to make their own decisions in each riding as to which anti-Conservative candidate has the best chance of defeating a sitting MP, go to it -- convince enough people and it will be successful.

We've seen several political organizations advocate, advertise and set up websites to advise voters on exactly that -- albeit the results have been very poor.

But do not let anyone call themselves either progressive or democratic if they are advocating a two-choice election in 2015 -- Conservative or their alternative ABC mix.

What's even worse than another Stephen Harper Conservative government is a country where high-minded elites deprive voters of a full range of political parties in the next election.  [Tyee]

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