Canada's Choice 2015: Greens offer detailed policies on the environment -- and more

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Photo: flickr/Shaun Merritt

Canada's Greens say they "do not wait for elections to unveil what they believe in." 

And they are true to their word.

Anyone can download the Green Party's 110 page comprehensive plan, which they call "Vision Green."

The document groups Green Party policy proposals under six headings, with a heavy emphasis, of course, on the environment. 

Those headings are:

  • The Green Economy

  • Averting Climate Catastrophe 

  • Preserving and Restoring the Environment 

  • People [what we usually call social policy]

  • The planet needs Canada (and vice versa) [in other words, foreign policy] 

  • Good Government [what others call democratic reform] 

Green Party economic proposals include, naturally, a (revenue neutral) carbon tax proposal.

Greens pledge to reduce income and payroll taxes, recouping lost revenue through higher taxes on activities that produce carbon emissions. 

Oddly, one of the Greens' proposals on personal taxation is -- echoes of the Harper Conservatives -- an income-splitting provision for married couples.

Electorally, the Green Party has been able to attract disaffected Conservatives and Liberals who still see the NDP as a party of sweaty-palmed, union-dominated "socialists."

That is an image quite at variance with contemporary reality for the NDP. But the Greens appease such socialism-phobic voters by pointedly talking about business and market incentives -- and, from time to time, borrowing a few fiscal ideas from the Conservatives.

In point of fact, however, very few of current Green policies echo those of the Harper government. On most policies, there is much more overlap between the Greens and the NDP. 

Here's one example: both Greens and NDP want to eliminate any and all subsidies to the Canadian fossil fuels industry.

And, like the NDP, the Greens also want to encourage cooperatives and the social economy, and invest in such activities as urban transport and eco-tourism.

Rigorous climate goals -- a 'carbon neutral' future

When it comes to climate change the Greens are, as one might expect, perfectly clear. They want Canada to commit to reduce its emissions by 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and to a whopping 85 per cent below 1990 levels by 2040.

Currently, Canada is moving in the opposite direction. 

The NDP proposes a similarly rigorous approach to climate change, but is not as thoroughgoing as the Green Party.

No other political party says, with the Greens, that Canada should totally phase out carbon emissions as quickly as possible, until we become "carbon neutral."

A complete phase-out, the Greens say, will happen eventually, in any case, as we run out of fossil fuels. The sooner we embrace a low-carbon economy, the Greens argue, the better. 

Climate change is not the only challenge facing the environment, however, and the Greens have more detail on the whole range of environmental issues -- from air quality to water protection to species at risk to toxic chemicals to Canada's environmental science capacity -- than the other federal parties.

Again, the NDP is closest to the Greens on this policy chapter. 

The Conservatives are almost openly hostile to the environment, and the Liberals maintain an extremely cautious, almost craven, silence on most environmental issues. 

But the Green Party does not want voters to think it is a one-trick, environment-focused pony. Greens have thought through all aspects of public policy.

More time for working people

When it comes to social policy, for instance, the Greens openly promote the idea of providing Canadians with less work time and more time to spend with families and in non-remunerative, creative pursuits.

We were promised decades ago that advances in technology would produce a leisure society, but there are no signs any but the super rich are seeing that today.

The Green Party says it supports tax and labour policies in ways that will increase the opportunity for Canadians to spend more time away from work.

Its MPs, the Green Party pledges, will promote an integrated program of supports, tax cuts and awareness-raising that emphasizes how time spent with children and/or in the community is essential for "the continuation of our society."

The Greens are, here, picking up an idea that has motivated socialists and social democrats for two centuries, going back to the early days of the industrial revolution, when reformers agitated for days off for child workers.

Sainted French Socialist Léon Blum, who headed the Popular Front government that first took power in 1936, is remembered, to this day, as the leader who gave the French their obligatory five weeks per year of vacation. The French still say that simple measure changed the lives of millions of working people in permanent and incalculable ways.

In talking about work time, and the need to reduce it, the Greens are swimming against the current in this age of acquisitiveness and ambition.

Almost identical to NDP on health care; for a guaranteed income

On health policy, the Greens take virtually the same approach as those "socialist" NDPers.

They want rigorous respect for the Canada Health Act, and its principles of accessibility, portability, universality, comprehensiveness and public administration. And Greens see the emergence of private health care in Canada as a dangerous thin edge of the wedge. 

Greens also worry about trade and health care -- especially about a possible NAFTA challenge to Canada's health-care system from the American for-profit health-care system. 

On income inequality and the poor, the Greens want Canada to work to achieve its long promised but never realized goal of eliminating child poverty. To do this, they propose a guaranteed minimum income (which they call a Guaranteed Liveable Income).

The Greens recognize that such an idea is still seen by many as radical. It is their medium or long-term goal.

In the interim, the Greens have a number of poverty-alleviating proposals, among them:

  • extending maternity/paternity leave for new parents outside of EI to two years and one additional year for parents who pay into EI
  • increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors by 25 per cent 
  • topping up income support for single parents on welfare during the time they are attending school or job training programs 

Plus, as a first step towards that universal guaranteed income, Greens suggest providing additional income support of $5,000 per year to adults currently receiving provincial welfare.

Make collective bargaining a Charter right

Like the other opposition parties, the Greens have an extensive series of policies on democratic renewal.

The Harper government's use of such non-democratic tactics as omnibus legislation and prorogation to avoid political embarrassment has put the issues of accountability, ethics and respect for Parliament on the political front burner.

As one might expect, the Greens advocate for electoral reform, and their chosen option, like the NDPs', would include an element of proportionality. A partly proportional system would -- its supporters argue -- allow every vote to be counted.  

Among the Greens less predictable democratic reform suggestions are "to actively promote collective bargaining as a human right and a Charter right."

Another is a "call for an independent commission to undertake a comprehensive study of the concentration of media ownership in Canada in comparison to other western countries and recommend how to diversify media ownership and strengthen the depth and breadth of news reporting, especially local news, in Canada." 

As with so many of their proposals, here the Greens sound very much like a traditional social democratic party. Voters who might be tempted to choose the Greens over the NDP because of their aversion to "socialism" should take note. 


For part one of this series discussing Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, click here.

For part two of this series discussing Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, click here.

For part three of this series discussing Thomas Mulcair and the NDP, click here.

Photo: flickr/Shaun Merritt

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