Toronto NOW article Greens Eco-Gap


The Green Party, currently sitting at 5 to 7 per cent in the polls, is campaigning hard to appeal to Canadians of all political stripes – not least of which are the young eco-minded radicals who helped build the anti-globalization movement. People just like us. It was our anti-globalization counterparts in the U.S., after all, who pumped Ralph Nader's bid for presidency. But while we're impressed by many aspects of the Canadian Green party platform – the 32-hour work week, a commitment to organic food production, a nuclear phase-out, bioregional stewardships, the devotion of all EI monies to employment insurance and more – the green ballot we mark on June 28 won't be with the Greens.

The Canadian Green party bears no resemblance to Nader's Greens or the European Greens, for that matter. Nader's main drive was to create a progressive third party, which we already have in Canada in the NDP. The Greens in Australia and the UK are made up of disenchanted Labour party members, and the German Greens grew out of the peace, feminist and socialist movements. Canadian Greens, however, can't boast the same kind of pedigree.

Many see the green moniker and automatically assume the party embodies all things socially progressive and sustainable, but we are disturbed by parts of their platform that seem headed in a strange, yet not totally unfamiliar, direction.

A pamphlet distributed by the party, Who Votes Green?, is a case in point. Under a picture of a former Conservative party supporter (a white male in a business suit), the caption reads, "What I like most about the Green party is their approach to economics, getting taxes off my income and onto pollution and waste."

Indeed, the main plank of the Green platform is a tax shift from income, profit and investment to resources. Green party policy aims to raise taxes on harmful activities such as pollution, waste, inefficiency and land use, and would presumably end the enormous public subsidy of industry's use of society's energy and resources.

While we can see how many could see this as a visionary way of accounting for use of planetary resources, we're troubled by the Greens' emphasis on cutting personal income taxes. We fear the Greens are catering to right-wing fears about progressive taxation.

For example, the party calls for a distinctly regressive $3.5-billion income tax cut. Millionaires would get the same break as those earning $35,000 and the 45 per cent of Canadians who earn less than $35,000 will receive a lower tax cut while likely paying more for basic necessities. "Lowering taxes on income is one of the best ways to support job creation," says the Green party. Now, where have we heard that before?

The proposed individual resources tax doesn't seem a progressive one either. It's true the Greens would introduce tax incentives to help homeowners and landlords reduce home heating and electrical bills, but we have a trust problem. Taxing companies for their polluting, resource-hogging ways is an interesting idea, but we have less confidence in a personal resource tax. We suspect the Greens' version of this tax could end up hurting the most vulnerable in society. Lower-income Canadians spend a much higher percentage of their income on basic necessities such as food, energy and water than higher-income folks do. It's possible the wealthy would not even feel the financial sting of watering their large lawns.

When I ask Green party prez Jim Harris about this remake of the tax system, he tells me the idea is a work-in-progress. True, but it's quite a leap, and the way it looks now, a green tax could put governments in the tricky situation of being reliant upon resource use and pollution for revenue to fund health, education and even environmental protection.

Says Harris, "Our tax policy is about taxing natural and non-renewable resources. There is elasticity in demand. Green taxes help us conserve and preserve. We disagreed with Eves subsidizing hydro rates. People don't conserve when rates are artificially subsidized. We need full cost accounting.''

When we weigh the shortcomings and the unknowns, we can't see why we would chose the Green party over the NDP. Harris says ecologists are putting too much stock in the NDP leader. "If Jack Layton got hit by a bus,'' he tells me, "– and I have tremendous respect for Jack – the whole greening of the NDP would die. It's basically being driven by him."

But this misses the point. The Greens could never have built the coalitions that are now motoring NDP environmentalism, like the green transportation policy Jack Layton developed with the Canadian Auto Workers' Union and Greenpeace. The latter recently gave the NDP top marks on their enviro platform (straight As), putting them above both the Greens and the other major parties. The Sierra Club also put the NDP at the head of the class with an A+.

The NDP isn't rolling the dice and relying on regressive taxation policies. This is why we think environmental activists should examine the Green platform and then compare it to the activist, Layton-inspired NDP policy book. There, you will find no credibility gaps to distract.

NOW | JUN 17 - 23, 2004 | VOL. 23 NO. 42