What Green electoral culture?

                    A discussion by D. Orton about the philosophical direction for the Canadian Green Party

                        "Canada's constitution is silent on the rights of non-human forms of life."
                                Judith McKenzie, Environmental Politics In Canada.

                        "Of all the aspects of our society, the military is the most directly an errand boy for the Americans."
                                George Grant, Lament For A Nation.

                        "The Greens have identified themselves - critically - with the industrial system and its political
                         administration. Nowhere do they want to get out. Instead of spreading consciousness they are
                         obscuring it all along the line. They are helping to patch up the cracks in the general consensus.
                        The theorists of realpolitik state directly that nothing else will do but to 'rule out' extremes."

                                Rudolf Bahro, June 19, 1985, in his Resignation Statement from the German Green Party.
                                Bahro was one of the co-founders of the Party.

                I have been thinking for some time about how Green Party people, both at the federal and provincial levels,
            see the electoral culture, and what practice needs to be embraced. Should the focus be on getting Green MPs
            elected and "getting out the vote", or should we focus on changing public consciousness in Canada? What
            follows, if we choose one of these orientations, or can these two orientations go hand in hand? The circulation
            of the booklet "2006 Leadership and Council Elections and Constitutional Review" by the federal Green Party,
            prior to the August convention in Ottawa, outlines the aspirations of those party members seeking office within
            our party. This document has helped precipitate, along with related literature and a tenure in the shadow
            cabinet as deep ecology spokesperson, this comment on Green electoral culture.

                Voting for the Greens should not be about sending someone to parliament. It should be about changing
            popular consciousness so that humans come to make their peace with Nature before it is too late, and
            that we have the societal courage to make those fundamental changes which protecting the Earth requires.

                The federal party claims not only electoral legitimacy as a political party but also, constitutionally, that it
            represents and speaks for the "broader Green Movement" in Canada. However, one sees an overwhelming
            emphasis on electoral considerations, and, within this, the emphasis is organizational - "towards growth and
            development", and not theoretical or philosophical. Yet for deeper Greens, the ongoing destruction of the
            natural world and the ecological crisis are the primary concern. We see an urgent necessity for alternative
            visions to be presented for public discussion around various issues, such as climate change, peak oil and
            energy use, industrial forestry and agriculture, increasing destruction of other life forms and their habitats,
            growing highly addicted consumer populations, etc. We have to bring together the general ecocentric vision
            rooted in deep ecology, and show how it relates to a particular issue. (I have tried to do this over the years
            in my environmental and green movement work. For a couple of recent articles illustrating this, see
            "Reclaiming the Commons: Responding to Climate Change and Peak Oil", June 2006, circulated
            on Green Party lists and the internet, and also reproduced by Canadian Dimension magazine on their
            web site; and the Green Web Bulletin #74, "Off-highway Vehicles and Deep Ecology: Cultural
            Clash and Alienation from the Natural World"
  An edited version of this article is being included in
            an anthology of dissenting views on off-highway vehicles, being published by the Foundation for Deep
            Ecology, due out next year. This off-highway vehicle book would perhaps be similar to the anti-industrial
            forestry book Clearcut, which came out in 1993, and which has been so helpful to forestry activists.)

                We should not join forces with the ideologues of industrial consumer capitalism in providing a "green"
            varnish to their theories and practices. Such people, some of whom are to be found in the Green Party,
            provide what I see as "green wash" consulting services to the business class in industrial capitalist society.
            This provides a bias, in my view, towards eco-capitalist-type thinking by such practitioners within the party.
            It means taking the continuity of industrial capitalist society as a given and as the only possible paradigm
            for resolving ecological and social problems. Examples would be the promotion of light green ecological
            theories, such as. "natural capitalism" and "sustainable development", or opposing the immediate
            withdrawal from NAFTA and Afghanistan as Green Party policies. I am willing to compromise on some
            issues, but not on matters of principle, such as whether or not the Canadian Green Party should support
            Canadian troops as part of a US inspired military occupation of Afghanistan. The perspective of that
            wonderful conservative philosopher the late George Grant, as given in the above quotation from
            Lament For A Nation
, is surely insightful here, in the days of a decaying superpower. Polarization
            and conflict around "hot" issues is often good, as it brings about deeper discussions and reveals where
            people actually stand. (Personally, I believe the federal Green Party has Canadian and Afghan blood
            on its hands for refusing to support a motion to immediately withdraw Canadian troops from

                Our overall concern should be dismantling the existing industrial, growth-conditioned, capitalist society
            which has produced the growing ecological and social crisis, and rebuilding society on deep green
            ecological and social justice principles. If this is not being advocated, then polling ten per cent or more of
            a constituency's vote, or being "endorsed" by some mainstream newspaper, are not indications of growing
            support for Green Party values. Rather, they are indications of a "light greening" of our message, so that it is
            no longer threatening to the survival of industrial capitalist society itself.

                This lack of vision was well shown, to my own mind, by the national distribution of the embarrassing,
            watered-down one-page flyer (but featuring five montages of the Leader) called "Yep. We're a
            one-issue party"
, in the closing days of the 2006 federal election campaign. As electoral Greens in
            Central Nova, we refused to distribute this. We were put on the spot by this flyer and had to rush to
            produce our own, more consciousness-changing pamphlet, although most of the electoral campaign had
            passed us by as we waited for the promised literature from headquarters to arrive. The election pamphlet
            we eventually produced can be seen at  Make Peace with Nature  We do have to pay attention to the
            packaging of our ideas and how they are presented, but content must always remain primary,
            otherwise we will lose our way. We will then betray that ecological trust which the Canadian public is
            starting to accord to Greens.

                Society has traditionally defined itself as human-centered - that Nature is there for the taking. What
            we need to do, is to shift to an ecocentric all-species consciousness, and extend our sense of personal
            identity to include the well-being of the Earth. This is the importance of deep ecology to the Green Party.
            If put into practice, it would distinguish us from the other, human-centered, political parties. While social
            justice is important, it needs to be the more inclusive all-species justice, not just a human-centered justice.
            In post-industrial societies like Canada, Greens need to grasp that our attitudes towards Nature or the
            natural world become the main political cleavage and challenge, not the Left/Right social justice concern -
            important as this is.

                The ecocentric endeavour seems to be having a spreading impact. Three recently published books
            illustrate this. These books are Philip Sutton's Nature, Environment and Society,  Judith McKenzie's
            Environmental Politics in Canada, and Fred Bender's The Culture Of Extinction.  McKenzie's
            Green Political Theory chapter, should be required reading for electoral greens so that they can
            self-rate their politics in the Green Party: "The two broad visions of green thought -
            environmentalism as ideals and beliefs that can be accommodated within the traditional liberal
            democratic tradition and environmentalism as new ideology, commonly referred to in the literature
            as ecologism, ecocentrism, or deep ecology."
The three books mentioned all take deep ecology as
            setting a defining bar and theoretical stage for analysis of the world around us. We do see, with these
            authors, that deep ecology is becoming an orientation, not only in university teaching subjects, but also in
            contemporary culture and politics.

                I find a general theme in the federal party voting booklet is that many candidates for various positions,
            who are asking for organizational support within the party, emphasize winning parliamentary seats and
            taking the party to "the next level" organizationally. As one leaflet put it: "Our focus: preparing to elect
            Green Party MPs. That's our challenge."
But who will educate the Green MP educators, to
            paraphrase a saying from Marx from long ago? Green electoral politics should be about promoting a
            fundamental shift in peoples' consciousness towards a sustainable planet for humans and for other species,
            and not about accumulating votes or gaining parliamentary seats.

                Another theme seems to be that one uses the other political parties as a model but with the proviso that
            Greens just do things more efficiently and with fewer funds. Hence the mimicking of shadow cabinet
            positions in the Green Party with those of contending political parties. Yet how can the well-being of the
            Earth and all the other species which share the planet with us be "represented" in a Green Party shadow
            cabinet, whether federal or provincial, if we follow this model? How can such non-human interests be
            reflected in decision making within a Green Party? What does ecocentric governance mean, as opposed
            to human governance, and how is this being reflected in Green Party internal and external federal elections?
            This is a discussion which needs to take place by those seeking office in our party.

                "Overselling"  by those in leadership positions is worrisome for me. What I mean by this is exaggerating
            during federal elections possible electoral success, or party ecological insights, or putting over-the-top spin
            on the latest polling firm data as it concerns the Green Party. Such talk eventually erodes credibility. It is much
            better to have the more realistic attitude of humility towards the daunting tasks which face us and the various
            abilities which we collectively bring to address such tasks.

                Another substantial bother for me, is the decision to have "a full slate" for an election. This causes the
            acceptance of candidates who may have minimal ecological literacy and no record of participation in
            environmental and/or social justice struggles. Such was the situation in the recent provincial election in Nova
            Scotia. Does this perspective imply that the quality of a particular candidate is not too important? In its early
            days, the German Green Party proclaimed itself the "anti-party party", but eventually "parliamentary realism"
            and absorption to the functioning dress, lifestyle and servility codes of parliament asserted themselves. Are we
            on the path to sell out even in nominating candidates? Are those like myself, who raise dissenting voices about
            the electoral culture we are rushing to embrace, in the business of "feeling morally pure", as some have said?
            In my view, some Greens betray their unique vision potential and aspire to become conventional politicians
            skilled in the art of "realpolitik" - a betrayal of the Earth, in my terms.

                My own quite limited green electoral experience, as within the shadow cabinet, is that those who defend
            light green policies will not accept being politically labelled this way. They often claim that they too share the
            dark green or deep ecology ideals, but are more "practical" and "must relate to where the public is at", if greens
            are to get elected. They may call themselves supporters of "revolutionary pragmatism", for example. How one
            wishes that this was true! Getting elected is, from the light green or reformist perspective, the name of the
            electoral game. But before society can radically change, the ideas advocating the required changes have to be
            aired and gain a public constituency. If electoral greens do not raise such ideas, who will? I do not accept that
            there is some kind of absolute distinction between being theoretical and being practical. Good work has to try
            to combine both aspects.

                We have to defend what is left of the natural world by putting, not only our votes, but, more importantly,
            our minds, our hearts and our bodies on the line in its defense. We must truly see ourselves as part of the larger
            green movement and incorporate this in how we conduct ourselves. This requires major discussion within the
            party. We cannot lag behind the ecology, peace and social justice movements, which too often is the situation

                Canada's Constitution fosters "furthering economic development" (Section 36b). But as Judith McKenzie
            shows us in her quotation, our Constitution is totally silent on defending the rights of non-human life forms.
            This is our non-voting constituency. Green electoral culture needs to show clearly that we speak for all life and
            not only for humans. Voting for us means voting for the trees, for the birds and for the other animals. It means
            voting for the rivers, oceans and mountains, and for clear air and clean water.

            July 16, 2006

                                                                                        David Orton
                                                                                        Federal candidate in Central Nova in 2006, and
                                                                                        national Green Party deep ecology spokesperson.

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     Last updated: July 23, 2006