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Green and sober

Green leader Jim Harris says his party is no longer on the fringes

Less than a decade ago, the Green Party of Canada was just another fringe
party, mired in obscurity and relegated to the sidelines by Canada’s
mainstream political scene. But then something unexpected happened: this tiny
environmentalist party began to grow. In the 2001 B.C. provincial election,
the Green Party attracted 12.4 per cent of the popular vote—a gain of
620 per cent from the 1996 election. In the two most recent elections in
Ontario, support for the party increased from 0.8 to 2.8 per cent. According
to recent Ipsos-Reid polls, the Greens are the third most popular party in
Quebec, after the Bloc and the Liberals, and in Alberta—by far the
toughest nut to crack for any environmentalist party—the Greens are
showing support from an impressive seven per cent of the population. In the
upcoming federal elections, the Greens already have candidates in 250 of the
country’s 308 ridings, including a full slate running for
Alberta’s 28 seats. Indeed, the Green Party is becoming harder and
harder for the world of Canadian politics to ignore, and as the party
continues to gain ground, many an Albertan is beginning to wonder who these
guys are and what they stand for. With the Green Party’s federal
leader, Jim Harris, coming to town next Monday to give a public address
entitled Not Left, Not Right, But Sustainable: A New Direction for Canada,
Vue Weekly arranged an exclusive interview with Harris to discuss what the
party is, what he considers the major issues facing Canada today and what the
party plans to do for Alberta. Vue Weekly: First off, maybe we should start
by having you explain what your party stands for and where you think it fits
within the Canadian political scene. Jim Harris: The Green Party really
confounds people who think of politics only in terms of the left-right
spectrum, because the Greens are fiscally responsible, socially progressive
and we’re committed to environmental sustainability. Being fiscally
responsible is traditionally associated with parties on the right, being
socially progressive is usually associated with parties on the left and
environmental sustainability, we are the only party that’s committed to
this. So we really confound this way of thinking, and as we in the Greens
like to say, we’re neither to the right nor left, but out in front. If
I told you 20 years ago that the majority of people in Canada would be
drinking bottled or filtered water today, you would have thought I was crazy,
but I’m going to tell you today that if we don’t fundamentally
change things in Canada, we may have to breathe bottled air in 20
years’ time. Every year in Toronto, people with respiratory illnesses
die on smog days; this problem is already starting to surface. And in 20
years’ time, if you can’t drink the water or breathe the air,
what does it matter is the government is left, right or centrist? VW: The
Greens have seen substantial growth in popular support over the last few
years, particularly in B.C. and Ontario—why do you think that is? JH:
Well, first off, we’re in a climate these days where people are deeply
dissatisfied with the old-line traditional parties. For Paul Martin, these
are very disturbing times, and that’s why the election has been
stalled. And it’s against this backdrop of deep dissatisfaction that
the Greens are experiencing pretty dramatic growth. The Green Party has been
at about five per cent in Ipsos-Reid polls since November of 2003, which
means that 640,000 Canadians plan to vote Green in the federal election.
It’s a real coming of age for us, and because we’re running a
candidate in almost every federal riding, we’ll be included in the
televised leaders’ debate—and then no Canadian political party
will anymore be able to ignore the environmental issues that face us. VW:
Speaking of environmental issues, how do you respond to the fact that your
party is often referred to as a single-issue party? Do you think that’s
an accurate description? JH: No, nothing could be further from the truth. The
environment is the framework for the lens with which we look at all policies.
But we have policy on every single aspect of Canadian society. For example,
when Paul Martin says he wants closer relations with the U.S., that’s a
code word for us accepting the anti-ballistic missile defence plan, which
would violate the proud, long tradition that we Canadians have of being a
peace-loving, peacekeeping nation. I mean, I thought the Cold War had ended;
this is such a gross misuse of resources. Real defence is defence against
child poverty—it’s an absolute disgrace that in Canada, one
million children live in poverty, in a country that is so blessed, so rich.
And why could that ever be? Because of misallocation of priorities by the
government. Now, people would say, what does that have to do with the
environment? On the surface, it might not, but when you look at it from a
Green perspective, in that we are socially progressive, it’s a
violation of what we consider proper priorities. Another example would be
transportation. The goals of Kyoto are just a starting point; we are going to
have to move beyond these goals, and if you look at North America, two thirds
of our consumption of oil and gas is within the transportation sector, so
we’d better have a policy that reduces oil and gas consumption. A Green
government would say that all the vehicles that are within the worst 25 per
cent of gas consumption would have, let’s say, a one per cent tax on
new and used vehicles. And we would take all the money from that and say that
the top 10 per cent of excellent gas consumption will receive that as a
subsidy so the whole thing is revenue-neutral. What that does is it changes
the economics of car production by giving the companies incentive to produce
more environmentally benign vehicles, and then you’ve changed the whole
market without costing the taxpayers anything. VW: What do you think is the
one issue facing Albertans today that the Green Party will be better equipped
to deal with than the other parties running in our ridings? JH:
Alberta’s economy is largely based on oil and gas; what happens when
conservation eliminates over the next 10 years the need for half the oil and
gas that we’re consuming, through hybrid vehicles, reduced diesel
needs, better conservation in infrastructure, energy-efficient appliances,
and better insulating in houses? Now what happens to the oil-and-gas
industry? Now, all of a sudden, the growth is in energy conservation, the
growth is in energy-efficient cars, so what’s going to happen to
oilpatch jobs? So the challenge is not to wait until Swedish firms create a
dominance in energy-efficient appliances worldwide, not to wait until the
Japanese companies create the dominant position in energy-efficient vehicles
worldwide; it’s to create those very industries in Alberta right now
and create those jobs for Albertans to compensate for the inevitable
contraction of jobs in the oil-and-gas sector. And no other party is saying
that. V Jim Harris: Not Left, Not Right, But Sustainable: A New Direction for
Canada Roxy Theatre (10708-124 St.) • Mon, Apr 26 (8pm)

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