In order to secure a majority government this election, the victorious party must have a minimum of 170 seats – and hopefully one more to fill the Speaker’s Chair. At the end of the first week of the campaign, CBC’s aggregate poll tracker puts the Liberal Party just shy at 167 seats. Lo and behold, the Green Party comes in at 4 projected seats, enough to partner together for a majority coalition government or at least support a more stable minority situation.
Sure, the odds may be slim that it shakes down exactly this way, but it is possible and therefore the Green Party would get concessions from government. Despite this, media coverage of the Green Party platform has largely been limited to a quick recap of their promises. Therefore, it warrants the question “what does the Green Party really stand for?”
The Green Party’s leader, Elizabeth May, unveiled her party’s platform during the first week of the campaign. For a party attempting to push its way into true electoral relevance, the 2019 election is big. They appear to have a fighting chance against the New Democrats and can show that the Green Party is about more than just environmental issues. To do that, they needed to put out a solid framework of ideas that they can be proud of.
Where they Got it Right:
Platforms are a complicated thing to construct. To create a cohesive document, there needs to be a set of themes and trends that permeate throughout. Commonly, a party will resort to a set of major themes such as: making life more affordable, helping the most vulnerable, or growing the economy. Opposition parties have a natural tendency to put forward the opposite themes of the government of the day, assuming that voters are driven by a shared desire to throw the government out of power. Four or five themes, and you are normally set.
The Green Party took a different approach. Instead of reactionary themes, they decided to structure their document around the United Nation’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. Almost every section of the platform – be it health care or trade – contains a callback to the UN goals it purports to accomplish.
Some of the linkages are tentative at best, or not present at all, but the thematic structure of the platform is creative and new. The Green Party deserves credit for having a coherent theme woven throughout and a real sense of how to make very different concepts and ideas fit together well.
Where they Got it Wrong:
Aside from a large caveat that several promises in the plan are almost surely too ambitious for a government to realistically achieve and appear to be largely unfunded, there is one large flaw embedded throughout the Green Party platform – a lack of experience.
First, there are the basic mistakes. There are the odd typos or poorly worded promises, but on page 22 for example, the mistakes become more telling. Here they claim that launching a renewable energy transition will create more than 4 million jobs. To prove that point they include a footnote, but it simply reads “Reference for both the potential for energy savings and jobs required.” Forgetting a footnote happens, but not being able to substantiate claims that you can offset the loss of four million jobs is a bit of a problem.
Second, the lack of experience is evident with some of the promises they are putting forward. For example, they promise to end the first-time home buyer grant because of a spurious claim that it increases housing speculation. Being up front about the cuts you plan to make is a strategy worth pursuing if you are releasing a full fiscal plan. When you do not release a fiscal plan, as the Greens have chosen not to, revealing that you would cut a popular program to save around $400 million a year, even though your platform has tens of billions in new annual spending anyways, is entirely unnecessary.
Policies to Watch For:
If the Green Party manages to hold the balance of power, the governing party will need to identify areas of alignment in order to win Green Party support. Though this is an inherently political calculation, the promises cherry picked from the Green Party platform need to be realistic and well thought out.
For example, the Greens have suggested that federal sales tax be removed from electric vehicles or that infrastructure investments be fast-tracked in communities hard hit by economic distress, potentially applicable in a place like Oshawa with the upcoming loss of General Motors’ factory this coming Winter. Both policies could help stimulate the auto industry and communities struggling from auto layoffs, while still holding true to a pro-environment philosophy.
Another example could be the suggestion of a “cross-party inner Cabinet” to tackle climate change related issues. Though no government would relinquish any form of Cabinet authority to the opposition, the governing party could easily adapt this idea into an all-party committee or commission. For the Greens, getting a government to take your priorities seriously, even with a different set of solutions, is still ultimately a win.
Policies to Dismiss:
Ultimately, the Green Party platform has a lot of promises that are just too ambitious and too costly for a government to implement, such as: eliminating fossil fuels and going to fully renewable energy by 2030, working with the provinces to fund a guaranteed livable income for all, or arbitrarily stepping into provincial jurisdiction to eliminate all student supports and instead give across the board free post-secondary tuition for all.
These are incredibly expensive ideas. The platform promises a Green government would require all parties to submit their platform cost estimates to the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) in the future for verification. Despite that, this platform remains unaffordable, unchecked by the PBO, and does not include a fiscal plan. Not to mention these ambitious plans are fraught with jurisdictional fights and unintended consequences. Together, the Greens seem to have kept the “shoot for the moon, land among the stars” philosophy of Green Party platforms past.
The Green Party is finally playing in the big leagues for the first time. With that comes increased scrutiny. They will learn from this election, but there is plenty to be done to close the credibility gap with the parties they are trying to catch, including the New Democrats.
That said, even the Green Party is self-aware that these policies will not occur anytime soon, but the play here is to impact the debate and to get more people thinking more ambitiously. Should they be able to bring their priorities to the forefront, they can consider their 2019 election platform a partial success.
Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/CHRIS YOUNG