Because Justin Trudeau reneged on his promise to replace our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system, Canadian voters once again face the same dilemma: Do you vote for your favourite (or least disliked) party, even if it has no chance of winning your riding? Or do you hold your nose and check the box for a second choice in order to defeat the Devil Incarnate?
The Liberals are counting on that kind of strategic voting. They know that their track record has alienated many progressive Canadians on the most pressing issue of our time — the climate emergency. But they hope that evoking the threat of another Conservative government will entice voters back into the Liberal fold, at least long enough to tick a ballot.
It’s worked before. Let’s hope it doesn’t this time, though, because the Liberals don’t deserve a majority. Nor do the Conservatives, with a stable full of fossil fuel fans and even climate science rejectionists.
The conventional model for categorizing the Canadian political spectrum, one continually reproduced in mainstream media, labels the Liberals as one of the “progressive” parties, along with NDP and Greens, while the Conservatives are alone on the right — constantly challenging to win a majority with barely a third of the vote, due to “vote-splitting” between progressives.
It’s time to rethink that model.
To start with, the Tories no longer have a monopoly on the reactionary right. The rise of the People’s Party, stoking paranoid populism, is a significant barrier to a Tory majority.
More important, on energy and environmental issues, perhaps an earlier image of the Tories and Liberals as Tweedledum-Tweedledee old-line pro-corporate parties is actually more appropriate.
That seems counter-intuitive. Haven’t the Liberals introduced a national carbon price? Isn’t Trudeau making a lot of hay about endorsement from economists, particularly my Simon Fraser University colleague Mark Jaccard, of its climate platform as the most “sincere”?
For me, that track record became clear soon after Trudeau’s 2015 victory. Despite promising to redo the Trans Mountain pipeline approval process, and loudly claiming that while governments grant licences, only communities grant permission, Trudeau approved the pipeline in 2016, bailed it out with $4.5 billion of Canadian taxpayers’ money in 2018, re-approved it in 2019, and continues to throw at least $12.6 billion and likely much more into its construction. It’s a project that is behind schedule, over budget, only 30 per cent constructed, and in the uncertain event that it succeeds economically, will lock Canada into tar sands expansion for decades. Never mind the urgent call in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report for “strong, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
In Trudeau’s Alice-in-Wonderland world, the (doubtful) revenues from the pipeline will be used to help finance a transition to a greener economy. That’s like selling a dangerous and addictive drug to finance a rehab centre. And it’s quite telling of power relations in this country that a supposedly “green” Liberal like Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson endorses this Orwellian absurdity.
The Liberals apparently hope that enough Canadians still don’t connect the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure with the unfolding crisis that gave us drought, wildfires, and deadly heat this past summer. It’s one helluva stretch to rate their climate record as “sincere.” Borrowing from Shannon Daub and her colleagues in the Corporate Mapping Project, a more accurate description would be “new climate denialism” — paying lip service to climate science while rejecting its policy implications.
Perhaps the most telling evidence is the plateauing of Canada’s outsized greenhouse gas emissions during the past twenty years of Liberal and Conservative governments, the weakest performance amongst the G7 countries.
But I digress. This is about our political options, not a comparison of the Parliamentary parties’ platforms. None of them address the climate emergency with the scale and speed required, although the NDP and Greens come closest. None of them echo the Guardian newspaper in telling it like it is: the fossil fuel industry is destroying our future.
So how is this for a strategy? Instead of voting automatically for a particular party, support candidates with a reasonable chance of winning, and a strong track record of backing climate action inside or outside Parliament. The campaigning organizations LeadNow and 350.org have identified thirty candidates as “climate champions”.
Their brief bios can be found through the links above, but here’s a shortcut, approximately from west to east:
- Victoria — Laurel Collins, NDP
- Saanich-Gulf Islands — Elizabeth May, Green
- Nanaimo-Ladysmith — Paul Manly, Green
- West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country — Avi Lewis, NDP
- Vancouver Granville — Anjali Appadurai, NDP
- Vancouver Quadra — Devyani Singh, Green
- New Westminster-Burnaby — Peter Julian, NDP
- Burnaby North-Seymour — Jim Hanson, NDP
- Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon — Lynn Perrin, NDP
- South Okanagan-West Kootenay — Richard Cannings, NDP
- Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola — Joan Philip, NDP
- Kootenay-Columbia — Wayne Stetski, NDP
- Edmonton Griesbach — Blake Desjarlais, NDP
- NorthWest Territories — Kelvin Kotchilea, NDP
- Regina Lewvan — Tria Donaldson, NDP
- Winnipeg Centre — Leah Gazan, NDP
- Winnipeg North — Melissa Chung-Mowat, NDP
- Kenora — Janine Seymour, NDP
- Essex — Tracey Ramsey, NDP
- Hamilton Centre — Matthew Green, NDP
- Parkdale-High Park — Paul Taylor, NDP
- Oshawa — Shailene Panylo, NDP
- Ottawa Centre — Angella MacEwen, NDP
- Papineau — Christine Pare, NDP
- Laurier-Ste. Marie — Nina Machouf, NDP
- Malpeque — Anna Keenan, Green
- Cumberland-Colchester — Lenore Zann, Liberal (!)
- Halifax — Lisa Roberts, NDP
- Labrador — Amy Norman, NDP
- St. Johns South-Mount Pearl — Ray Critch, NDP
Elsewhere, let’s vote to ensure that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives win a majority of seats. (Of course, if you live in a riding with a two-horse Liberal-Conservative race, and the latter is one of those anti-reproductive choice, anti-vaxx, anti-climate, anti-gay rights or otherwise backward-looking right-wingers, you’d have my grudging approval if you vote Liberal!)
Or, if there’s time, talk with pro-climate friends and coworkers to agree on the least objectionable candidate. Then you have a group to pressure whoever becomes your local MP.
I’m not naïve. Canada’s version of Parliamentary government privileges political parties over individual backbench MPs. With the exception of the Greens, party whips keep MPs in line for Parliamentary votes, and party leaders wield various sticks and carrots.
However, while they are incentivized to present a united front in public, individual MPs can exert influence within their own Parliamentary caucus, and the best of them can publicly push the envelope on social movement issues through their Parliamentary position and media access. (In that regard, MPs like Svend Robinson, Elizabeth May and Libby Davies have been inspirational.)
Another caveat: let’s not assume that parties that win elections are “in power.” They are merely in office. In Canada’s current political economy, it’s capital — particularly carbon capital — that remains in power behind the scenes, until it is challenged by popular movements and determined, progressive governments.
Elections are just one of the many tools needed to challenge carbon capital’s grip on our democracy. This time, the best we can hope for is a minority government, with a few dozen New Democrats and perhaps Greens holding the balance of power — sorry, office — with a strong contingent of climate champions influencing their respective Parliamentary caucuses, and helping their party to productively engage with social movements working for climate justice.
Meanwhile, I’m going to the voting booth recalling the words of Tommy Douglas, the NDP’s first national leader: “The only wasted vote is a vote against your own interests.”
Robert Hackett is professor emeritus of the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University.