Greens aim to prune the political rhetoric

Jim Harris, Arts ’82 and former rector, talks about what it’s like to be at the head of a growing party

Federal Green Party leader Jim Harris, Arts ’82, said Canadians should vote with their heart.
Federal Green Party leader Jim Harris, Arts ’82, said Canadians should vote with their heart.

Journal: It was only a year and a half ago that you went through the last election campaign. The outcome of the election was that the Green party earned enough votes to receive federal funding. How have these funds changed your party’s ability to run this campaign?

Jim Harris: Six months before the last election, the party had one part-time employee. He was very busy, one poor guy all by himself. Six months before this election we had 20 people [working] full time.

We had so many firsts in this election. I was the first leader to visit every province in Canada and the North. I visited every province before Mr. Martin, or Mr. Harper or Mr. Layton. So [the funding] means that we have the money to fund the leaders tour that’s more aggressive than every old-line party.

We were the first party to release our full, entire election platform—it’s available on our website,

There are only two federal parties now that have a candidate in every riding, the Green party and NDP, because the Liberals and the Conservatives just dropped one candidate each. So it means we have more candidates than the Conservatives and the Liberals. Our website is taking six million hits a week, as Canadians are hungry to learn about our platform because the television networks have shut us out. … We have an online petition that you can go and sign requesting the Green party be included in the debates, and so far 48,000 people have signed. When you actually consider [that] when the broadcasters invited Canadians to e-mail them questions, to the leaders of the old-line parties, only 10,000 bothered to submit questions. So five times as many Canadians want to see us on the debates as were interested in asking questions of the leaders of the old-line parties.

What would you have imparted to an audience if you had been included in the debate?

We would have said things that aren’t being said by any other party.

For instance, today, one in every five children has childhood asthma. When you look at the rates from 30 years ago, it was less than one in 50. Why are we using our children as the canaries in the coal mine to tell us we have to change? Are we going wait until one in every four children has problems until the old-line parties decide to do something about it?

There are not yet any Green seats in the House of Commons. If you are able to get elected, how would you ensure that your party is heard?

We saw the incredible amount of power that just three independent MPs had in this last parliament, because they determined the fate of the government, the fate of the budget, and were able to change the course of the government by exerting pressure. So by electing our first handful or two handfuls of Green MPs in this election, we can force the same fundamental changes to occur in Canadian politics. The Globe and Mail, front page, a couple days ago, had us at six per cent. And if you consider that the NDP in 1993 was 6.9 per cent of the vote, with nine seats, we are in the range to elect our first Green MPs in the history of Canada, in this election.

What would you consider a successful outcome of this election?

We’re going to win seats in this election. When you do the math on the polling numbers from the Globe, six per cent is over 800,000 Canadians [that] have already made the decision to vote for a secure future for their children and their grandchildren. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath that, we’ve never had such high discontent with all the traditional old-line parties. Research from Decima this summer shows that in addition to the number that have already decided to vote Green, 34 per cent of Canadians are now considering it. … At a time when we’re seeing a huge numbers of undecided voters, and huge numbers of [voters] not comfortable with any old-line party, this is the perfect storm for the Green party to break through.

It seems there is a broad-ranging spectrum of people who are supporting the Green party. You present a platform of ecological activism that at the same time is fiscally conservative. How do you reconcile seemingly contrasting political ideologies in one party?

We talk about being fiscally prudent or fiscally responsible. I’ll give you an example. This past year the Liberals gave $1.4 billion in subsidies to oil and gas companies, and this is during a time when they’re making the highest profit in their existence. So we say we don’t think this is a fiscally responsible use of our precious tax dollars.

Why are we subsidizing the most profitable companies in Canada?

Because we believe in balanced budgets, every dollar we spend in one area is a dollar that can’t be spent in another area. So that $1.4 billion is stealing precious resources that we can’t invest in education, because our students are graduating with the highest debt loads in the history of Canada.

To address childhood poverty, over 1.2 million children live in poverty today, some four million Canadians can’t guarantee that they will be able to buy food by the end of the month. They are poor, they need our help.

The oil and gas companies are rich beyond their wildest dreams. Why are we giving our precious resources to them? We can’t invest as much money in health care or social housing, because we’re subsidizing the rich companies in Canada. So we don’t consider it socially responsible.

Finally, we’re literally subsidizing global climate change: for every dollar the Liberals proposed to spend on Kyoto, they’ve spent subsidizing oil and gas companies. When you look at over last 30 years, it’s $40 billion that’s given to oil and gas companies. When you look at our total national debt, it’s only $500 billion. Almost 10 per cent of our national debt has come from subsidising oil and gas companies.

I just want to point out how we are fundamentally different from other parties: the Conservative party would keep up the subsidies because they’re an Albertan-based party, beholden to oil and gas interests. The NDP supported giving Ford $100 million and GM $200 million in the past 18 months, why? Because it was unionized jobs, CAW jobs. So we wouldn’t be supporting the two car companies that have the highest CO2 emissions on average, that produce gas guzzling vehicles and have bet their entire future on gas guzzlers. … I think that union workers would be just as happy building hybrids, in fact happier. Why don’t we produce any hybrids right here, right now in Canada?

Your party seems to strike a special chord with young voters, such as university students. Why do you think your party has this appeal? Is the youth vote crucial to your campaign?

Absolutely. The student vote is absolutely crucial, and yes, the Green party has a higher percentage of [youth] support amongst our support overall than any other party in Canada. The Green party is the party of the future and for the future. And so, Sheila Copps, the former deputy prime minister of Canada, admitted to me that her daughter ran for high school election in her mock election, and won her seat, as a Green. And Hugh Segal, who is one of the backroom strategists for the Conservatives, admitted to me that his daughter voted Green. And Diane Francis, who is the editor at large of the Financial Post interviewed me, because her daughter voted Green. And Doris Anderson, who’s a former Liberal candidate, former editor of Chatelaine magazine, a prominent feminist and journalist, over dinner told me that her son not only voted Green, not only campaigns for the Green party, but belongs to the Green party.

And so while the who’s who of Canada may have belonged at one time, or worked for, or been elected by the only two parties that have traditionally governed Canada, their sons, their daughters are firmly focused on the Green party. Because we’re the party of the future and for the future.

What does the Green party have to offer university students, in particular?

We have to invest in our education system. It’s alarming to me that if you’re coming out in meds or engineering, you can have a six-figure debt. If you’re going in arts—just even arts—it’s over $25,000, the average debt. We have to work to help our students, instead of giving handouts to the richest companies in Canada. So we would invest in supporting education. There are three legs to the education stool: there’s core funding, which affects tuition levels. There’s bursaries and grants, to students who need help, and then there’s debt remediation. We’ve focused on investing in all three.

Many students studying at university face the unusual predicament of having the option to vote in either of two ridings. If voting Green, how would you suggest a student act in order to maximize the impact of his or her vote?

I would suggest that you all vote where your university is, because that would concentrate the vote and it will send a very clear-cut message to all the old- line parties: that if they want to remain relevant, they have to focus on the issues that we are talking about. So concentrate your vote to force the old-line parties to address these issues.

It’s not good enough for us to just talk about these issues, as Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message. So don’t just talk about it, show me. So we decided, to make the point—if you look at the average MP, he’s 55, white and male, not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld would say. But it’s just not representative of our society. So we’ve said that 25 per cent of our candidates should be under 30 years old, and we’ve achieved that. So we’re not just talking about different issues, we’re representing different kinds of candidates. We can’t just talk about being the party of and for the future, we have to be the party of and for the future.

It’s completely understandable why young people don’t vote, because when they look or listen to the televised leaders’ debate, the issues aren’t being discussed. Why? Well, our voice was excluded. We are the party that has the highest percentage of the youth vote. And yet our voice was excluded. Ever wonder why the environment doesn’t come up? Every wonder why education doesn’t come up? Ever wonder why childhood asthma isn’t mentioned? Ever wonder why there is not a profound discussion about opposition to Iraq, opposition to ballistic missile defence system? All these issues are our issues.

There have been allegations raised that you didn’t declare the expenses you incurred for the 2004 party leadership. How have these allegations affected the morale of the party during the campaign?

Not at all. The allegations were made by a former employee who was fired with cause, they’re completely factless and baseless, with one tiny exception of less than $200 of phone calls that due to omission weren’t declared and we’re filing an amended return. But we’ve provided 56 pages of documentation to Elections Canada refuting over 90 per cent of his allegations.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We’re going to have another election in 18 months. There’s going to be another minority government. For this reason, you have to vote with your heart in this election. Because it’s going to be a minority, you don’t have to vote against the party you loathe, or against the party you fear, you can vote with your heart to force every old-line party to address these issues.

When you vote strategically, you first identify the party you most loathe, or most fear, and then you try to figure out who has the best chance of beating them. But if you identify the party you loathe, you might have to vote for the party you fear to avoid the one you loathe. Or if you identify first the one you fear, you might have to vote for the one you loathe to avoid the one you fear. And if you vote for bad government to avoid worse government, the bad news is you’re left with bad government. It’s only when you vote for something that we’ll get the government that we want.

One Green supporter speaks up

By Christina Bossart
Assistant News Editor

When Geoff Olynyk, Sci ’07, heard his home phone ring during dinner on Jan. 11, he was not expecting the voice at the end of the line. It was CTV News President Robert Hurst, hoping to speak with Olynyk about letters he had written regarding the exclusion of the Green party from the nationally televised federal election debates.

Olynyk said he had sent letters to CTV, CBC, Global and the CRTC while at home in Burlington over Christmas.

“The idea originally came to me from an environmental newsletter,” he said. “They suggest [that] you write letters.”

Olynyk said his letters brought more than the standard form answer he was expecting.

“I was kind of shocked that I would get a call from the president of the company,” he said. “I was expecting a form letter from a human relations person.

“We talked for like 25 minutes.”

Olynyk said Hurst first asked how angry he was, and then went on to outline his personal requirements to make the Green party part of the national televised debates.

“There are five stations that decide, CTV, CBC, Global, Radio Canada and TVA,” he said. “It’s literally [the station] presidents that decide who is in the debates.”

To be included in the debates, Hurst said he felt the Green party should hold a national policy meeting and invite the media regardless of cost, increase their national grassroots movement, go on a national fundraising campaign, and be a constant presence in the political scene, speaking out not only at elections but at all government decisions such as the budget and the Throne speech, Olynyk said.

“[Hurst] gave me one quotable phrase, ‘You have to build a national party first and then you can demand a spot in the debates—it doesn’t come for free,’” Olynyk said.

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