There is a sea change happening in Canadian politics. There is a green tide coming in, across the whole country.
Prince Edward Island is leading the way, just as it did with Confederation. The recent provincial election swept out the red (Liberals), narrowly elected the blue (Conservatives) and, for the first time in Canada, the official Opposition is the Green (party).
Political swings on the Island are not new — but they have see-sawed for 150 years between red and blue, never orange (NDP). This time, the reds were washed away by the surging Green tide. But if Green is the new orange in P.E.I. — and I suspect elsewhere, given the byelection win for the federal Greens in British Columbia that gives them a second MP — what does this mean for the future of the New Democratic Party, the perpetual alternative?
First, the name is unfortunate. The NDP were new once, but not in the lifetime of anyone under 50. Second, their main slogan is no better — looking at the policies and rhetoric of their leadership, "Today’s NDP" is really "yesterday’s" instead. Apart from the work of some outstanding individuals (including Transcona MP Daniel Blaikie, a Red Seal electrician with an MA in philosophy), the federal NDP has floundered for decades.
Across the aisle, the Progressive Conservatives were erased by the blue wave of Reformers from Alberta, but there has been nothing progressive in the federal Conservative party since Joe Clark’s short-lived government fell in 1979. There used to be a wing of red Tories that promoted centrist, socially responsible government. Today, the only red Tories in leadership are angry ones. Yet, among the rank and file, I suspect there are lots of red Tories left. The party’s policies and hierarchy don’t align with them, but they are still not likely to vote either Liberal or NDP.
All of this opens the way for a Green tide — perhaps even in Alberta, despite the decidedly blue-hued result of its recent election.
We are headed further into economic and environmental uncertainty. Old answers (and players) aren’t working, and there is a limit to the number of times the same old thing can be repackaged or rebranded. Real change becomes the only sensible and practical alternative.
The Social Credit Party surprised everyone by winning the Alberta provincial election in 1935, when voters decided red and blue had nothing more to offer. From these roots, the Alberta spin on Conservative politics (including the Reform Party) eventually spread across the country when the money to be made in Big Oil appealed to Bay Street power brokers, and replaced the traditional federal conservative party with its own shade of blue.
Similarly, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation also got its start in Alberta, in 1932, and then moved east to form government in Saskatchewan in 1944. It only became a national party when Prairie farmers allied themselves with trade unions elsewhere, and so the CCF morphed into the NDP in 1961.
Both Alberta blue and Saskatchewan orange began as alternatives, therefore, in a time of great economic and environmental crisis, and then grew. P.E.I. Green could do the same again, as we move further into a deeper global economic and ecological crisis.
As we have seen recently in Alberta and Saskatchewan, it is easier to start a new party than remake old ones. While the "new" Manitoba Liberals seem greener than their opponents, it’s still a red/green show at the core, I fear — not the true renewal of a third option in Manitoba politics. That leaves the Green party, at provincial and federal levels, as we contemplate at least one election this year. Reducing federal politics to repetitive verse, the Liberals are the party of old money and privilege; the Conservatives are the party of new money and profit; the NDP are the party of no money and need.
The Green party is still in search of its own poetic definition, but it has amazing potential. As a clear alternative, the Green party could stand for social justice, fiscal responsibility and ecological engagement. It could deliver the decisive action that our world so desperately requires, right now, instead of offering platitudes to greenwash the guilty consciences of those who could change, but find it personally inconvenient, and so don’t.
It could take all the old colours and combine them into that New Green Deal for Canadians that those of us who are worried about the future young people will inherit still hope to create. And it would be a New Green Deal, not the Green New Deal of the United States, because we do things our own way, here — and don’t intend to apologize for it.
Peter Denton is an activist, author and sustainability consultant based in Manitoba.