Saving the planet? Election reform? It’s all in a day’s work

ELECTION FEATURE by Gregory Beatty

Nearly 20 political parties are registered to contest the Oct. 19 election — the majority being single issue advocacy groups such as the Marijuana Party and Animal Alliance that are using the election to promote their cause.

Some might be tempted to lump the Green Party in with them, but that would be a mistake, says Green candidate Tamela Friesen (Regina Lewvan).

“When I knock on doors I don’t even talk about the environment because they know that about us already. I say the Green Party is concerned with four realms of justice. The environment is one, but also economic, social and democratic justice. And we need all four in balance to move forward as a society.”

Reforming Canada’s democratic structure is a key plank in the Green platform. Last election, 60 per cent of Canadians voted against the Harper Conservatives. But with that vote split between four centre-left parties, the Cons were able to win a majority under our antiquated first-past-the-post system.

“We want proportional representation,” says Friesen. “Our leader Elizabeth May’s dream job is to be part of a coalition government. So there’s your power hungry leader for you.” With PR, seats are awarded based on the amount of votes a party receives, so every vote in every riding truly does matter.

“We also want to divest power from the prime minister’s office,” says Friesen. “A lot of people are ‘Stop Harper’, but I’m saying he’s not the problem — he’s the result of the problem.

“The PMO doesn’t even need to exist, and here it is an unelected group of people running the country. Every prime minister has further consolidated power, so that would suggest whoever’s next is going to continue doing that. We’re not solving the problem by getting rid of Harper, we’re just changing it.”

Social and economic justice initiatives include a Guaranteed Liveable Income for seniors and others living in poverty, a National Housing Strategy, tax reform to restore fairness and boost corporate rates and a Green Venture Capital fund to support small businesses and innovation.

Despite their comprehensive platform, the Greens are still best known for their stance on the environment. And Friesen says the message is sinking in. “My sense is that environmental concerns are starting to bleed into mainstream society. People are getting it, although whether they’re motivated to action yet, maybe not quite. But I think they’re starting to look at each other awkwardly and say ‘Maybe there is something to this.’”

Voting splitting, as happened in 2011, is on people’s minds too, says Friesen. “What I hear at the door is a concern Harper’s going to get back in. There’s a lot of fear about that, so they ask me about vote splitting. To that I say ‘We need to start a citizen rebellion at the ballot box.’ In what would have been Regina Lewvan last election, 23,000 people didn’t vote. It only took 15,500 votes to win the seat. Not showing up is the issue, not vote splitting.”

That’s a stance that St. Thomas More College political scientist Charles Smith supports.

“I’ve always been suspicious of strategic voting, and the sense that there’s no differences between the parties,” says Smith.

“I think political parties serve a function, and people need to look at those parties, and maybe vote for a party that’s promoting electoral reform, which would solve the problem of strategic voting,” he says.