Green Party AGM
On Saturday, The Green Party of BC held its Annual General Meeting in Victoria. You can read a short bit about that in the Tyee’s political blog, but as far as a Google news search shows there is no other coverage. Of course the party put out a Press Release, but as usual it is widely ignored.
UPDATE: Tuesday May 26
The Globe and Mail decided to actually print something about the Green Party!
I was making notes mostly about stuff that might be useful next time. I had decided early on to travel light, so no laptop accompanied me and I spent no time wondering if I could find free wifi. That in itself was a liberating experience. This is not a report – more reflection on the impressions I took away with me – perhaps not quite the “insights” someone asked me to post.
More than 100 people turned out – which for a party our size is pretty good. This was the first election where we had a “full slate” of candidates – and about half of them came. Considering that nearly everything a Green Party candidate does has to be on their own dime this in itself is remarkable. And being Green also meant that many car pooled and were billeted on local members – as I was. This gave us much of the weekend to talk to other candidates and compare experiences.
One immediate thought struck me when I encountered the candidate for the North Coast was that some people make a very favourable first impression – which works exceptionally well when door knocking. And before you castigate me for being superficial you need to know that Lisa Girbav was also the youngest candidate (at 19), from a First Nation, highly intelligent and articulate (and she took this picture of herself). I did experience a distinct chill when I went around knocking on doors – and I think that some of that can be fairly attributed to me being an old white guy. And at one stage in the AGM I was at a circular table which was somehow peopled almost exclusively by old white guys – most with English accents. The NDP has a policy of only selecting new candidates who are women or visible ethnic minorities: I think that probably did not help them at all in Richmond (none were Chinese). Stronger candidates however would not likely be willing to run in Liberal safe seats.
As Jane Sterk said “I think we need to recognize that we can’t just be nice people with good policy.”
Unfortunately not all Greens are, necessarily, nice people all the time. Especially when they are looking for reasons why the Green vote share went down. Perhaps the worst example – and this was a faux pas committed by a radio journalist as well as one of those at that table – was to single out Jane’s fashion choice and hair style. Yes, I know that the media did that to Gordon Campbell when he wore a plaid shirt once, but that is still no excuse.
The greeting for the meeting came from Tom Bradfield (who ran in North Saanich and who also calls himself an Indian) who reminded people of the need to be respectful. Once again a table full of old white guys arguing tactics – and having to “self moderate” – quickly forgot that. And there was plenty of blame to throw around.
Part of the reason of course is that we keep comparing ourselves to other political parties and trying to draw lessons from the experience of other parties that started small and had to break through in a system designed to protect established parties. This made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. Trevor Loke – another of our younger candidates who ran in Surrey – gave a presentation based on his extensive experience with the Progressive Conservatives, BC Liberals and Conservatives. He cited the Reform Party as a good example. (And, by the way he polled less than I did) I did not want to join the Conservative Party – but of course Greens draw on experience from across the spectrum. The dimensions of which have now been recognised to be more than two. The word “progressive”gets thrown around more than “left” these days, but that is just code. Equally while the Green Party was born from the environmental movement – and thinks it needs to paint itself as being “more than just than the environment” (especially when that issue seems not to be top of minds with people who vote) – that means the mode of thinking is rather different to other parties.
For ease of reference in the campaign I said “both capitalism and socialism have demonstrably failed”. But neither of the two big parties are especially ideological. Both like to present themselves as pragmatic. The unions have a strong influence on the NDP, and their emphasis is very much on jobs and economic growth. On the other hand Carol James tried hard (even if unconvincingly) to project herself as friendly to small business. The well spring of the BC Liberals is both neoconservative and anti-union. But both parties seem to want to inherit the mantle of W C Bennett, while at the same time both are trying hard to recruit green supporters. The NDP likes to think it has some right of ownership of green voters – but as many said on Saturday, that is a grave error. Most Green activists would not be involved in party politics at all if there was not a Green Party. What I kept trying to drag the conversation back to was how we reach out to the majority – who do not vote at all! I do not think we increase our appeal if we simply emulate the other parties. At least some abstention arises from distaste of the current political process. This is especially true in BC where politics is a highly partisan blood sport.
The NDP campaign was also relentlessly negative, something the Greens were at pains to avoid. BUT the Liberal record on the environment is shockingly bad and was largely ignored – because most of the attention was focussed on the carbon tax and the fact that run of the river power is a private sector “gold rush”. Elections are no place for policy arguments (I heard that from Trevor Loke too) but it was not the “green” value of either of these initiatives which was front and centre in the public debate (unlike the online wrangling on list serves and blogs).
It is also apparent that one negative campaign was hugely successful – the one that defeated electoral reform. This was the subject of the after dinner speaker, Dennis Pilon, who did a good job of making what is at best an esoteric and rather dry subject quite entertaining. He does not speak in academic but rather demotic language “How’s that first past the post workin’ for ya?” Question period – after he had been thanked by the leader but given nothing – went on for quite a while, with a long line up for the microphone. Debating this issue was clearly nearer the hearts of those attending than socializing – for after he stopped answering questions the crowd melted away. A small gang hung around in the car park but they seemed to be simply discussing where to go onto next.
I missed a section of the agenda in the afternoon as I also had to attend the AGM of the innovativecommunities.org foundation. There was an unexpected cross pollination from that too. At the Green Party meeting the chairs were in rows facing front for the morning but needed to be rearranged around tables for lunch. That happened quickly and easily – but with no one giving any orders or directions. Everyone knew what had to be done and just got on with it. That is what is called “chaordic” organization – which is something we at ICO are very keen on. Now if the Green Party could only think of a way to engage its members and supporters in a self organizing process to a simple, clear objective, perhaps the abilities demonstrated at the AGM might be more effectively utilized. I happen to think that the discussion process – facilitated or not – did not do very much to galvanize us into activity. I think most people are now looking forward to a break from politics, and despite the rhetoric I do not expect very much to happen now that will propel us into the next election.
And as I think is probably clear from the foregoing, I really hope that we do not seek to emulate the other parties but rather celebrate and capitalize upon our difference from them.