Crawl Across the Ocean

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Green Party Leadership Race

As you may or may not have heard, the federal Green Party is having a leadership contest, which will coincide with their national convention on August 24-27 in Ottawa. The current leader, Jim Harris who has presided over a rapid expansion in the party's popular vote totals (from 0.8% in 2000 to 4.5% in 2006), is not running for-reelection.

Since I like to root for an underdog, think environmental concerns are not taken seriously enough at the federal level and like to provide a counter-weight to what I see as unbalanced coverage in the mainstream media (Liberal voters outnumbered Green voters roughly 6-1 in the last election - do you think media coverage of the leadership campaigns will reflect that ratio?), I thought I'd talk a little it about the Green campaign.

As of this moment there are two candidates: Elizabeth May, and David Chernushenko.

May's candidacy website is here, and the page on her bio is here.

Via the Trudeau foundation, here is a (somewhat) more succinct summary of her background:

Elizabeth May is an environmentalist, writer, activist and lawyer. She is a graduate of Dalhousie Law School and was admitted to the Bar in both Nova Scotia and Ontario. She has held the position of Associate General Council for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, representing consumer, poverty and environment groups in her work. In 1986, Elizabeth became Senior Policy Advisor to then federal Environment Minister, Tom McMillan.

Ms. May is the author of four books, Budworm Battles (1982), Paradise Won: The Struggle to Save South Moresby (1990), At the Cutting Edge: The Crisis in Canada's Forests (Key Porter Books, 1998) and, co-authored with Maude Barlow, Frederick Street; Life and Death on Canada's Love Canal (Harper Collins, 2000). Recipient of many awards and honours, she became in 1998 the first chair-holder of the 'Elizabeth May Chair in Women's Health and Environment' at Dalhousie University. She holds honourary doctorates from Mount Saint Vincent University and the University of New Brunswick.

Currently the Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, Ms. May is a member of the board of directors of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and a member of the advisory board to the Environmental Commissioner, Office of the Auditor General of Canada.


For more background, on May, try reading a blog she kept for a few weeks during the run-up to the last election and during the Climate Change Conference which took place late last year in Montreal.

Also try reading this guide on how to be an activist, written by May.

And of course, there is always Wikipedia.

The second candidate is David Chernushenko. Chernushenko's candidate website is here, and the bio is here.

From his bio:

"David Chernushenko is a Green Party Deputy Leader and recent federal candidate in the 2004 and 2006 elections. As Deputy Leader, he has given many speeches and media interviews on Green policies. David is the Climate Change Critic for the Green Party, and was a key contributor to the party's detailed platform documents on energy and climate change and on the topics of health promotion, fitness, and sport.

As a Green candidate, David ran groundbreaking campaigns in 2004 and 2006 in the hotly-contested riding of Ottawa Centre. In 2006, David received over 10% of the vote, won more votes than any other Green candidate, and received the endorsement of the Ottawa Citizen editorial board. He has developed a working relationship with many local and national public policymakers, and continues to build links between the Green Party and others producing detailed and practical policy prescriptions to make Canadians, our communities, and our economy truly healthy.

David's motto, "Live Lightly", is a goal that influences all aspects of his life. As the owner of Green & Gold Inc., David has advised public, private, and non-profit organizations on adopting more sustainable and socially responsible practices. He is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional and an associate of Arborus Consulting, a green building and energy efficiency consultancy. David is a founder and former president of Clean Air Champions, a national clean air and active lifestyle advocacy group. He served on the International Olympic Committee's advisory Commission on Sport and the Environment from 1998-2005.

Fluently bilingual, David has published two books on sustainable development and is a frequent speaker locally, nationally, and internationally on how to promote healthier and more vibrant"
(link to vote totals added)

There is less information on Chernushenko available on the web, but for more background, try reading the Ottawa Citizen's endorsement of Chernushenko for the Ottawa Centre riding, this brief bit of correspondence might give some insight into Chernushenko's style, and again, there is Wikipedia.

As for my own opinion, I was asked recently what my thoughts were on the leadership race and, since I'm a lazy blogger, I figured I would just reproduce (in slightly edited form) my response to that question.

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To be honest, I'm not really sure what to think - even though I've been thinking about the leadership race and the future of the Green Party and doing some background reading for a few days now.

It seems clear that both May and Chernushenko would make good candidates. I expect May to win the race, but that's an uneducated, non-insider opinion. It's hard to assess their positions on policy questions since we don't really know what those are at the moment.

I guess the question for voters in the next election (as always) is why should they vote Green rather than any other party. The two biggest camps are likely those who want a centrist option which is greener than the Liberals or Conservatives and those who want a more left wing version of the NDP. Nuclear power is an example of an issue that might fall along those fault lines, with 'hardcore' greens having zero tolerance for nuclear, while some people see it is a way to generate power without contributing to climate change. The same is true for large hydro projects.

Complicating matters, many people won't vote Green simply because the Greens are not on their radar screen, so raising the profile of the party will win votes as well.

Another reason people don't vote Green is because the local candidate is not as 'good' or as high profile as the other partys' candidates so being able to inspire and recruit strong candidates is another concern.

I guess, in a nutshell, there are 2 main concerns: party-building (higher profile, better candidates, solid finances, etc.) and policy-crafting - with the most pressing concern on this front being the age old question of how much the party is willing to compromise principles in order to seek more votes in the centre.

So yeah, I don't really have anything insightful to say. The real question is which candidate is most likely to do the best job on both fronts simultaneously which is really a question of personal judgement (which in turn is why leadership campaigns are so much about people as opposed to policy, which in turn is why I don't talk about them much - I'm not a people person!).

Anyway, given her track record, I suspect May will be the best leader for building the party. My only concern is whether she will be pragmatic/pro (or at least not-anti) business enough not to alienate centrist green types like myself, although it is a good sign that she gets along with Clinton.

From a purely strategic point of view, having a female leader will help the Green party differentiate itself from the 'old-boys club' which is the impression one gets seeing Layton, Duceppe, Harper & 50+ year old white male Liberal leader together.

Policy-wise, one way to unite the various Green factions might be for the party to focus on the long term rather than the short term across the board. With regard to environmental issues, this is the standard sustainability focus. On health issues, this mindset leads to a focus on prevention and healthy lifestyles. On fiscal issues it leads to debt repayment to ensure our future finances are healthier. It supports the notion of child care spending as an 'investment' in the future.
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But it is still pretty early on in the race, so those opinions are even more subject to change than my opinions normally are.

For more early coverage of the race, try this in-depth article from View Magazine by Sarah Veale (found via 'Don't Leave Without Me') or try James Bow's post, or this post from 'I Didn't Get Where I am Today'.

6 Comments:

  • I am still bitter about the way they campaigned last time, frankly. I hope whoever wins is more capable of getting some candidates' names out -- I decided against voting for them *only* because they were the only party who had so few signs (and no direct mail, which I do understand) that I had no idea who was running in my riding.

    By Blogger wolfa, at 8:17 PM  

  • To be fair, the Green party has less money to spend than the other parties. But having said that, you are right, one key to success will be doing a better job at the local level getting signs put up, circulating campaign material, publicizing the local candidate on local TV/radio, and so on.

    By Blogger Declan, at 1:56 PM  

  • Best things for the greens would be for their supporters, myself included, to get out and bang the pavement.
    As far as the candidates, I'm still not sure what they stand for, and I think that will reflect on the party. Here is hoping for a vision of the future!

    By Blogger PeterC, at 4:28 AM  

  • I'm pulling for Chernushenko for many of the reasons you pointed out; he's far less likely than May is to alienate centre or centre-right Green supporters. He's got business street cred and knows his way around the party. Despite May's advantage in the household recognition department, I saw her on Newsworld this weekend and wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be.

    By Blogger Kerry, at 1:20 PM  

  • I'm still a long way from deciding who I'll support. Perhaps the English and French leadership debates in June will settle this for me.

    By Blogger Devon Rowcliffe, at 7:01 PM  

  • I have become somewhat cynical about the Public Interest Advocacy Centre

    By Anonymous Toronto Environmental Alliance, at 7:26 AM  

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