Beating Harper: NDP + Greens?

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It is not enough to beat Harper, it is the forces that support him, and will influence the Liberals that need to be defeated.

Stephen Harper is a Prime Minister in the tradition of Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin: He governs with the solid backing of business. And, like Martin, he formed a minority government with 36 per cent of the national vote.

The last prime minister to have some policy autonomy was Pierre Trudeau who left the scene 22 years ago; his seats in Quebec and personal appeal allowed him to keep some distance from business.

If you are concerned about global warming, environmental pollution, public services, working conditions, poverty, public transport, recreation and culture, the prospect of continued domination of public life by a business model of what government should be and do is naturally worrisome.So you are worried. What should be done?

The prospect of Harper losing public confidence, and his office, for his handling of foreign policy issues, while welcome, is not reassuring.

Expect a new Liberal leader to step in and accept business support in return for doing what business wants in the same way Martin and Chrétien took over Mulroney policies to woo business backing. The main difference between then and now was that the former division between the old Tories and the Reformers made life easier for the Liberals.

The best immediate prospect seem to be more minority government, but with the NDP holding the balance of power, and able to extract concessions from the Liberals, or less so from the Conservatives.

However, prospects for more division on the left could threaten the NDP standings in the House.

Later this month, the Green party will select a new leader, possibly Elizabeth May. The Greens polled 4.3 per cent of the national vote in the 2004 election ensuring them public funding. In 2006, their support stalled at 4.5 per cent. But they are attracting young, passionate members, largely based on the obvious-to-all-but-fans-of-the-National Post deterioration in the conditions of human existence. In 2006, the Greens received their largest support (6.5 per cent) in Alberta where Harper is strongest and the assault on the environment the most evident.

In an article published in Canadian Forum in 1989, former NDP MP Lynn McDonald called on the NDP to be the Green Party of Canada. One of the most effective members ever to be elected — it was her private member's bill banning tobacco advertising that began the fight back against smoking in public spaces — McDonald saw that the traditional sources of appeal for the NDP would not be enough to bring it to power.

Jack Layton has been the greenest of party leaders, and the NDP has been acknowledged by environmentalists to have the greenest platform. But that has not stopped the Green Party from creeping up behind the NDP in support, to the point where the Green vote could cost the party seats. In a competitive party system the NDP is hostile to the Green party, but with proportional representation the two parties would work together. Why wait for PR?

At its convention this fall, the NDP should call for a merger of the two parties, a uniting of the left if you wish, creating the Green Democrats, a movement of Canadians determined to take back control of their future.

The new entity would build on points of agreement across Canada: to implement the Kyoto protocol, and control carbon dioxide emissions; to tax fairly, and fund public services properly; to eschew recourse to military solutions to international problems; and, yes, to control and regulate business investment in the interests of Canadian workers, and the environment.

The Green Democrats would actively seek the support of social movements: women's organizations, labour unions, human rights organizations, social justice activists, and environmental groups.

There are, of course, Green Party members who do not share the historical concerns of the NDP with labour rights, and do not think of themselves as of the left, and there are NDP members who are suspicious of the Greens on the economy and job creation. So be it. The importance of stopping the business assault on our society remains.

We have seen the future and it does not lie with a business model for Canada. It is not enough to beat Harper, it is the forces that support him, and will influence the Liberals that need to be defeated. A progressive Green Democratic movement would be a big step towards making that happen.

The NDP should lead the way.

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