Does Nova Scotia need a new political party? Some environmentalists think so. A founding convention for a Nova Scotia Green Party was recently held. Participants agreed to an organizational structure and selected a leader, Nicholas Wright, a business and law student in Halifax.
There is no question that environmental issues need to be brought to the forefront of political agendas. A strong scientific consensus confirms that the greenhouse gas produced by our economies is the major cause of global warming. The only debate now is whether it is too late to reverse the process and its consequences. An optimistic outlook is that we are fast approaching the point of no return, what some commentators have called the "tipping point."
Climate change is the most dramatic and pressing environmental challenge we face. Fundamentally, we rely on an economy that thrives on polluting the environment and wasting natural resources. Our health care system is left to deal with the human consequences of ground, air and water pollution. Cancer rates are soaring and the impacts of toxins in our environment are increasingly being recognized. Our communities and workers are struggling to deal with the consequences of the depletion of natural resources such as fisheries and forestry.
Governments and political parties need to articulate viable strategies to get us out of the ecological mess we’ve got ourselves into. Unfortunately, the leadership shown by politicians in dealing with these issues has been disappointing.
During the leaders’ debate prior to the federal election in January, the environment and the Kyoto accord were not brought up for discussion by any of the party leaders.
Federally, the Liberals made much of signing on to the Kyoto protocol, as it was popular with voters, but they did not have the stomach to follow through. Greenhouse gas emissions are increasing, rather than decreasing. The new Conservative government appears unable to make up its mind on where it stands on Kyoto and may delay as long as it holds a parliamentary minority. Both the past and the current federal governments recognize that citizens want action on the environmental front, but the parties are reluctant to take the steps needed. It will take financial resources and a firm regulatory approach with the private sector.
The federal NDP should be leading the push within Parliament. Its platform received the highest grades from some leading environmental organizations, ranking as high as or better than the federal Greens. But surprisingly, during the last election, the NDP chose not to include the environment of as one of the focuses of its platform.
Provincially, politicians don’t seem any keener on taking the leadership role needed. Going by their websites, none of the major political parties in Nova Scotia explicitly places environmental issues as a high priority.
The reality is that addressing the ecological challenges facing our economy will require fundamental changes in how we, as a society, produce and consume. We need politicians to tell it like it is without fear of political unpopularity. Indeed, politicians who aren’t afraid to give us the straight goods on the environment will find a surprising surge of support from the public and voters. The challenge is no less than turning an economy profiting from the exploitation of people and the environment into an economy based on principles of environmental sustainability and social and economic justice.
Rather than face up to the need for this economic change, successive governments have made the problem worse by turning the direction of the economy over to the corporate sector. As a result, not surprisingly, corporate profits have skyrocketed, while the environment has paid the price and many people and communities have been left behind.
And herein lies the challenge for a green party and, for that matter, any party that believes in social and environmental justice: how to overcome the economic and political power that corporations have accumulated.
Will a Nova Scotia Green Party be up to the task?
It’s hard to tell at this point, as it is early days and no policy agenda has been presented. But recent developments within the federal Green party may provide some indication of the tendencies, or at least tensions, within the new party.
Some former members have argued the leader of the federal Greens, Jim Harris, has moved the party in a more corporate-friendly direction – citing, for example, the shift to voluntary corporate compliance with environmental standards, and away from previous policies which were based on mandatory compliance by corporations.
Michael Oddy, the former interim leader of the provincial Greens and a past federal candidate, left both levels of the party. He claimed the Green party had moved to the right by, for example, softening its stance on climate change, military intervention and poverty, and paying more attention to the economy, tax cuts and fiscal conservatism.
While there is no official affiliation with the federal party, the provincial Green party leader, Nick Wright, ran in the past federal election under the Jim Harris banner. In its first news release, Wright states that the new party believes in "socially progressive policy," "fiscal responsibility" and "environmental sustainability," phrases taken from the same script the federal leader used during the last election.
The clock is ticking. We urgently need a strategy to ensure a transition to a sustainable economy and environment that is socially just. All of our provincial parties need to put this high on their agendas.
John Jacobs is director of the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives ( www.policyalternatives.ca), an independent public policy research institute. A version of this article was published by the Chronicle Herald.