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A grayer shade of Green

Elizabeth May photo by Mark Kortum CC BY 2.0
John Bell

May 30, 2019

The recent surprise by-election win of Nanaimo Green Party candidate Paul Manly gave them two seats in federal parliament. In the PEI election Greens came from nowhere to become the official opposition. The party is consistently polling above 11 % heading toward a national election. Pundits are gushing that perhaps this is a breakthrough moment for Green leader Elizabeth May.

The Greens are the beneficiaries of growing concern about climate change. Their popularity bump was the result of voters dismayed over Trudeau’s bailout of the K-M pipeline project and the NDP equivocation over fossil fuels.

The glimpse of power, however dim and distant, must have been too much for May. She chose this exact moment to remind everyone that her party is Green in name only. Her call for a ban on “foreign” oil, coupled with greater support for the Alberta tar sands caused a national outbreak of jaw-dropping and spit-takes.

“As long as we are using fossil fuels we should be using our fossil fuels,” May explained to the media. And with that her environmental policies aligned with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, and even oil industry shill Ezra “Ethical Oil” Levant. The business press – the same folks who endorse the Tories in every election – responded with equal parts approval and confusion.

People who have scrutinized the Greens’ platform are less perplexed. May’s party has always endorsed “market solutions”. For instance, subsidies and handouts to petro-corporations are a problem because they interfere with “free” markets. May is not opposed to the K-M pipeline in principle, because it violates Indigenous sovereignty or threatens to pollute the environment; she just prefers pipelines carrying bitumen sludge that has been refined in Alberta first.

To be clear, May is not even calling for nationalizing energy development. When she says “our fossil fuels” she means corporations profiting from Alberta’s tar sands and BC’s fracking megaprojects. This ignores evidence that shows that tar sands energy projects are far dirtier than conventional sources. The amount of energy required to extract energy from the tar sands makes them equal parts environmental disaster and economic sinkhole.

May’s pronouncement is less about addressing the climate emergency and more about grasping for a shred of electoral power. No amount of tinkering can resolve the destructive contradiction at the heart of capitalism. People looking for serious action on climate change would do well to ignore May’s gray Green Party. Far better to back the rising international youth protests, or Green New Deal town-halls that are drawing full houses across the country to debate the way forward.

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