In election aftermath, women should lead

(November 4, 2019)

We could subtitle most of the recent news “Life in the Aftermath.”

Tornadoes in Alabama, wildfires in California, a super typhoon in Japan, a hurricane in the Bahamas — and October snowstorms in Manitoba. Natural disasters seem increasing in number, severity and their effects on people’s lives.

Then there are the political disasters, whose effects may be similarly devastating: the daily, serial consequences of Donald Trump’s presidency, at home and abroad; the loud sucking sounds of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit as the United Kingdom circles the drain; and “Buck-a-Beer” Premier Doug Ford’s chaotic mismanagement of the province of Ontario.

In Canada, we are assessing the aftermath of our federal election and what a fragmented Parliament might mean at a time when decisive and wise leadership for all Canadians is required.

Desperation politics paid off at the end for the Trudeau Liberals, though (even in hiding) Ford really was the liability that Scheer’s Conservatives feared would cost them Ontario.

But more than anyone else, Catherine McKenna deserves major credit for the Liberal minority win. Somehow, it was McKenna’s voice — not Justin Trudeau’s last-minute environmental hyperbole — that convinced enough Canadians that the leaky-pipeline-buying plutocrats were greener than they appeared.

She deserves to continue in her role as minister of environment and climate change, because — often alone — she consistently maintained her focus, her credibility and her poise in the face of opposition from outside and sabotage from within caucus. Given the minority government, needing to co-operate with the New Democratic Party and the Green party to prevent an early election, McKenna should also be made deputy prime minister.

I have watched her interact with people up close, and she is in person what she projects at the microphone. The Liberals desperately need that kind of personal integrity and credibility if they expect to govern for four more years — and it’s about time that the women still left in the Trudeau cabinet had a chance to lead from the front.

Environmental portfolios too often are seen as places to park the second-string, weaker players, where they can plant a few trees and take some nice pictures, while the big boys (for example) buy pipelines and take care of business, especially for themselves.

In an age of climate crisis, this has to change. We need strong, determined leadership in environmental areas, whether it is with regard to climate change, sustainable development or a transition to a low-carbon economy. McKenna deserves that opportunity to lead, for the benefit of all Canadians.

This last Liberal government’s record on the environment was only good in comparison to the Harper government’s catastrophically bad record — a bad record that Andrew Scheer still seems determined to beat, if given an opening.

But there was a clear indication of who was calling the shots before in Ottawa, when McKenna and then-natural resources minister Jim Carr were summoned to a sundown press conference on the West Coast to announce the pipeline approval. Having been told what others — especially Bill Morneau — had already decided, they then had to shill for what was a monumental error in political, economic and ecological judgment.

Carr got his bounce back when he was moved to a spot in which he could follow his heart, as minister of international trade diversification, but McKenna soldiered on. Because of her determination and constant efforts to pluck local green victories from the jaws of policy disaster, she gave Trudeau’s Liberals a breath of a chance to be seen as a better environmental alternative than Scheer’s Conservatives — for the moment, anyway.

What Trudeau will do with that breath of a chance remains to be seen. If he is smart (or has acquired better advisers since SNC-Lavalin), he will appoint McKenna his deputy and take a long vacation out of the public eye, perhaps to wherever Doug Ford went.

McKenna understands the dynamics of the climate crisis better than the boys from Bay Street ever will. She is more likely able to start fresh with the other leaders on the Green New Deal that the rank and file of their parties want to see happen — and has no history of wearing anything other than a green face when it comes to working for what all Canadians need.

After a nasty election campaign, Canadians need a break from both Trudeau and Scheer. The leaders need some family time, as dads, since that is what they both see as their most important roles — perhaps the only area of their lives where apologies are not regularly required.

Frankly, we also need a break from dads-in-power. Catherine McKenna is a mother, and marched with her daughters. No mother (or grandmother) ever needs to apologize for protecting her cubs and giving them what they need for life.

Perhaps the women should lead. For a change.

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Has Green become the new orange?

(May 15, 2019)

There is a sea change happening in Canadian politics. There is a green tide coming in, across the whole country.

Prince Edward Island is leading the way, just as it did with Confederation. The recent provincial election swept out the red (Liberals), narrowly elected the blue (Conservatives) and, for the first time in Canada, the official Opposition is the Green (party).

Political swings on the Island are not new — but they have see-sawed for 150 years between red and blue, never orange (NDP). This time, the reds were washed away by the surging Green tide. But if Green is the new orange in P.E.I. — and I suspect elsewhere, given the byelection win for the federal Greens in British Columbia that gives them a second MP — what does this mean for the future of the New Democratic Party, the perpetual alternative?

First, the name is unfortunate. The NDP were new once, but not in the lifetime of anyone under 50. Second, their main slogan is no better — looking at the policies and rhetoric of their leadership, “Today’s NDP” is really “yesterday’s” instead. Apart from the work of some outstanding individuals (including Transcona MP Daniel Blaikie, a Red Seal electrician with an MA in philosophy), the federal NDP has floundered for decades.

Across the aisle, the Progressive Conservatives were erased by the blue wave of Reformers from Alberta, but there has been nothing progressive in the federal Conservative party since Joe Clark’s short-lived government fell in 1979. There used to be a wing of red Tories that promoted centrist, socially responsible government. Today, the only red Tories in leadership are angry ones. Yet, among the rank and file, I suspect there are lots of red Tories left. The party’s policies and hierarchy don’t align with them, but they are still not likely to vote either Liberal or NDP.

All of this opens the way for a Green tide — perhaps even in Alberta, despite the decidedly blue-hued result of its recent election.

We are headed further into economic and environmental uncertainty. Old answers (and players) aren’t working, and there is a limit to the number of times the same old thing can be repackaged or rebranded. Real change becomes the only sensible and practical alternative.

The Social Credit Party surprised everyone by winning the Alberta provincial election in 1935, when voters decided red and blue had nothing more to offer. From these roots, the Alberta spin on Conservative politics (including the Reform Party) eventually spread across the country when the money to be made in Big Oil appealed to Bay Street power brokers, and replaced the traditional federal conservative party with its own shade of blue.

Similarly, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation also got its start in Alberta, in 1932, and then moved east to form government in Saskatchewan in 1944. It only became a national party when Prairie farmers allied themselves with trade unions elsewhere, and so the CCF morphed into the NDP in 1961.

Both Alberta blue and Saskatchewan orange began as alternatives, therefore, in a time of great economic and environmental crisis, and then grew. P.E.I. Green could do the same again, as we move further into a deeper global economic and ecological crisis.

As we have seen recently in Alberta and Saskatchewan, it is easier to start a new party than remake old ones. While the “new” Manitoba Liberals seem greener than their opponents, it’s still a red/green show at the core, I fear — not the true renewal of a third option in Manitoba politics. That leaves the Green party, at provincial and federal levels, as we contemplate at least one election this year. Reducing federal politics to repetitive verse, the Liberals are the party of old money and privilege; the Conservatives are the party of new money and profit; the NDP are the party of no money and need.

The Green party is still in search of its own poetic definition, but it has amazing potential. As a clear alternative, the Green party could stand for social justice, fiscal responsibility and ecological engagement. It could deliver the decisive action that our world so desperately requires, right now, instead of offering platitudes to greenwash the guilty consciences of those who could change, but find it personally inconvenient, and so don’t.

It could take all the old colours and combine them into that New Green Deal for Canadians that those of us who are worried about the future young people will inherit still hope to create. And it would be a New Green Deal, not the Green New Deal of the United States, because we do things our own way, here — and don’t intend to apologize for it.

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