Issue 1, Volume 1

"The Ontario Green News"

"Don't hate the media, be the media" Jello Biafra

 

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Ben Bennett: Solid Waste in Ontario

Frank De Jong: A History of the Green Party in Ontario

Glen Estill: Electricity in Ontario

Bill Hulet: Gandhi, Agriculture, Justice

Gayle Valeriote: Poverty in Ontario---Voices from a Neighbourhood

Peter Meisenheimer: The Great Lakes Fishery

Doug Woodard: Energy and the Fossil Fuel Situation

Regular Stuff:

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The Green Library: John Ruskin's Unto This Last

 

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A History of the Green Party in Ontario: Frank de Jong

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After almost 20 years of glacially slow growth the Green Party of Ontario is at long last starting to show signs of life. In the provincial election, expected in April, we will be fielding a full or near full slate of candidates and we will be presenting a professionally looking and sounding platform document. Party memory is growing and social cohesion among party members is generally quite high. We are appearing in public opinion polls at around 3% of the popular vote. These are all encouraging signs for a party that has languished between the floor and the wax for 15 years.

 

The Party has grown so very slowly for a variety of reasons. It was founded too early, before the greater green movement grew to the point that it needed or wanted an electoral wing. The "wrong" people started the party. The other parties were "green enough" for the average voter. Ontario was not noted for it's ecological wonders and the voters don't consider nature conservation a priority. Pollution and resource depletion were not serious enough to matter to voters. Any or all of the above reasons will do.

 

The first setback to the GPO was that the people who founded the Canadian and Ontario Greens in 1983 abandoned the party after it did very poorly in the 1984 federal election. These early Greens assumed they would do well at the polls, and even elect MPPs, by virtue of their ideas alone. But, alas, they found out that ideas must be supported by organization, credible candidates and money, which all had been in short supply.

 

The GPO barely survived the 1985 mass exodus of members. Those who inherited the party by default had too much time on their hands and turned the party into a radically decentralized organization. The first GPO Constitution defined the organization as an "anti-party party", designed to be an integral part of the larger green movement, not independent of it. It was structured to be controlled by local, grassroots, green groups and not have a centralized traditional political party structure. The Constitution didn't allow for a province-wide membership list or policy development. There was to be no leader in an effort to prevent careerism and prevent the media from having a particular individual to praise or blame. The idea was that green groups around the province would choose and support one of their members as the Green candidate in each election. (This flat hierarchy model was the structure de jour of the other social and environmental organizations of the era that shared a similar distrust of top-down decision-making.)

 

In the 1990 provincial election we ran 40 candidates, but the party had no leader, no support structure, no policy or platform, and no membership base to draw support from. The fact that we had no leader was terribly confusing to the media and the public, not to mention to our candidates. That we had no platform or policy or support rendered being a candidate a lonely prospect, indeed.

 

Traditional structure was slowly introduced into the GPO, conference by conference. The process was often acrimonious but the normalizing forces eventually prevailed. The Party adopted a province-wide membership database and passed our first province-wide policy. We chose a Chief Financial Officer and Secretary, established a party newsletter, and modified the Constitution to have a leader mandated to speak for the party. In 1993 held our first leadership contest and I was chosen as the first leader.

 

When the recession hit in the mid 90s the party stagnated. Voters bought the line about jobs vs. the environment. Even though party membership was at around 100, we still put up 40 candidates in the 1995 election. Despite this being only our first election as a normalized party, the campaign came off smoothly if with very low profile.

 

Party membership remained at 200 members for the next 3 years, but in 1998 membership started growing and by the 1999 provincial election it had doubled to around 400 members. We now had at lease some organization in around 60 ridings. By this time we had an office in Toronto, but we couldn't afford staff so volunteers did the work. But the increased energy allowed the party to field 58 candidates in 1999.

 

The party continued to developed as an organization, expanding its membership and improving its showing at the polls. In the 1999 provincial election public support for the Greens was discernible growing. Based upon votes cast (30,633 votes or 1.7% of the popular vote in 1999), the Greens became the fourth largest party in the province, a distant forth, but finally pulling away from the rogue's gallery of minor parties.

 

Our task now is to establish the Greens as a credible, electable organization---one of the big parties. To do that we must be shrewd and calculating. Ontario is not BC. We don't have their spectacular natural landscapes and can never follow in their footsteps simply as a defender of natural beauty. Southern Ontario is considered rather boring and our North is considered to be either too cold or infested by blackflies to be a worthy election issue. The GPO will never get elected as a party of nature conservation. We tried that for about 10 years and got less then 1% of the vote for our efforts.

 

But there are two key messages that will get us elected: health prevention and green economics. We are the party best able to protect the health of our citizens from pollution, and we are the party best able to stick handle the economy through the ecological crisis. In fact, the two are complimentary. Green market mechanisms are the best way to conserve and protect the building blocks of good human health---clean air, water, soil, intact forests and fishery ecosystems. And a healthy population with access to extensive renewable resources is the basis of a strong, sustainable economy.

 

Ontario is famous for its economy, for its industrial might. We are proud of being the economic motor of Canada. We walk a little taller when we ponder our robust, diversified, manufacturing-based economy. We disdain the recession-prone hewers of wood and drawers of water that are the other Canadian provinces. The GPO must tap into this sense of pride in our economy. People will vote for us if we articulate green economic literacy, if we can describe the win-win shift from a consumption to a conserver economy. In the simplest terms, we must describe how the green tax shift will conserve resources, reduce pollution and create jobs by making people less expensive to employ. We must provide examples of how full cost accounting will make green technology cost effective without subsidies.

 

Voters are extremely worried about both their health and that of their family. To get elected the GPO must explain that no amount of high-tech gadgetry, expensive drugs or money in the healthcare budget can keep them and their loved ones from getting sick. Only a clean planet will produce healthy people. We must show that rather than legislating micro-managing rules and regulations as other party's suggest, that the best way achieve a healthy population is through green economics and putting the invisible green hand to work conserving resources and reducing pollution.

 

Twenty years of wishful thinking has not gotten us elected. Twenty years of copying the platforms of other, more successful Green Parties has not worked either. Thinking we are God's gift to politics will not get us elected. To win voter's support we must start thinking strategically and tap into what is unique about Ontario. We must appeal to what people in this province really care about most deeply---the economy and their health. The Green Party message must show that we have the secret, the inside track on how to keep ourselves healthy and the economy vibrant. With this message we are electable.

... A better way to live ...

 

 

Frank De Jong has been the leader of the Green Party in Ontario since 1993. A renaissance man, Frank is a teacher, opera singer, and long-distance cyclist as well as politician. He will be running against Ernie Eves in the riding of Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey during the next provincial election.