Not all the answers to our political and economic difficulties will come from the traditional Democratic or Republican parties - indeed, many will say that most of the productive answers will NOT come from them; they are simply too bought out by the corporate complexes. They do things differently in Canada, where third parties have more influence. Herein are a series of answers from my interviews of two of the leading figures in the Green Party of Ontario, John Fisher ( Village of Rodney councilor; Reeve (2 years) on County Council ; Chairman Henry George Foundation of Canada; Ontario and Quebec Chapter Chair, Common Ground-USA ) and Erich Jacoby Hawkins ( Member at Transition Barrie; Cabinet at Green Party of Canada; Member at Greater Barrie Chamber of Commerce ). I added some links to help the reader explore the concepts discussed further.
I met both Gentlemen at the 30th Annual Georgist Conference sponsored by the Council of Georgist Organizations last July in Albany, New York, which they have both attended regularly, since they, like me, are long-time Georgists. Georgism, for the unfamiliar, promotes the Single Tax on natural resource values and locational values, both of which are created by the community, not the producer, while untaxing results of production: wages, capital, and sales. It is immediately apparent that Georgism is neither Left nor Right. It is, we believe, simply correct, but I'll let Erich and John explain that and their other positions further.
Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity, American spelling, and formatting"
SB: Many people think the various Green parties around the world have a similar left-of-center, progressive stance, but there are really substantial differences. Could you compare the Green Party of Ontario (GPO) to the American Green Party and tell our readers where they differ? Also, does the Green party of Ontario represent "Greens" in Canada in general?
JF: The GPO in most ways represents Greens in the GPC. The main difference, to date, is the absence of a Georgist focus (the GPO leader was a Georgist). Hopefully the economic resolution to the August GPC (Green Party of Canada) Conference will move the GPC toward the GPO on this front.
Most Green Parties started from common roots but in Canada I think it was circumstances (see above) and smaller political (i.e. population) units for better communication.
EJH: I believe Green Parties exist in a space which cannot easily be addressed from the traditional left-right spectrum. They can certainly be termed "progressive", especially in social policy, but also tend to diverge significantly from the traditional Left on economic and fiscal approaches. In a country like the U.S. where the dominant parties are (on a world scale) right-wing and moderate-right, the Green Party will naturally appear to the left. But in Canada, where the major parties range from center-right to left-wing (social democrat), the Greens occupy what might be considered a centrist position, except that their policy mix is more eclectic than that of a traditional centrist party. Green parties reject both the communist/socialist class approach and the Austrian school of "free market" thought.
The Green Party of Ontario has the most developed economic platform amongst Canadian Greens, with the federal party following closely behind. Other provincial Green Parties tend to have much less development in areas of economic policy, so one sees a greater variety there. I tend to hope that they will follow the GPO and GPC's lead in adopting generally Georgist and Pigovian approaches to taxation. In the meantime, many of the provincial Green Parties are influenced by a membership who come from a social democrat or leftist perspective but are disillusioned with the traditional Left parties, so have formed a Green Party instead. In those cases, one sees more vestiges of leftist economic approaches, such as a preference for higher income or business taxes and lower property taxes (both the opposite of Georgist prescriptions). In most cases this is a result of not having yet put their economic policies under a rigorous analysis - those provincial parties tend to have a policy focus mainly on issues of environmental protection.
One of the striking differences I see between GPUS and Canadian Green stances is that much of what the GPUS demands for Americans is already in place in Canada - universal public health care, a decent minimum wage, 12 month's paid maternity leave, peace-keeping over war-fighting, etc. Therefore, while the GPUS needs to push for these "leftist" policies the Democrats seem unable or unwilling to achieve, Canadian Greens need only watch that such programs are not eroded, and in that effort they are joined by most of the other mainstream Canadian parties (with the exception of the most right-wing).
SB: Another thing that is quite different in Canada is the Parliamentary system. Could you describe that and also if a Canadian citizen is likely to get more representation among diverse parties than in our U.S. winner-take-all system?
JF : The nature of a Parliamentary system makes it easier for third parties to get elected. However it is the 'winner-take-all' vs. 'proportional representation' that makes the big difference. Canadians have a W-T-A like the U.S. but the GP and other parties have PR (Proportional Representation) in their platforms. It definitely gives better representation and decision-making for the majority of citizens. Our current government only represents about 35% of voters. The PQ in Quebec has approximately 10% of Canadian voters but 16% of seats in parliament. The GPC also has approximately 10% of polls but no seats in parliament.
The House of Commons is only elected proportionally on a national basis but not on a constituency basis. Here it's first-past the-post/winner-take-all like the US. Senate reform (i.e. being elected) is on the national agenda including in the GPC.
SB: Does this make for a better or worse decision-making process than a two party system, in your view?
EJH: When there is a majority government in power, Canada's multi-partisan system offers little or nothing in improved decision-making because the majority party (almost always based on a plurality but not majority of votes) can do as it wishes. The only thing a multi-party system offers in that situation is more choices for a voter or NGO to contact if they feel ignored by the government. In a minority government situation, much the same holds true, but there is some possibility of the opposition uniting to pressure the government to modify its program, or even bring it down (triggering a new election) in some cases.
SB: Your Senate is appointed, rather than elected, like ours, but it is also traditionally subordinate and follows the wishes of the House of Commons, which is elected on a proportional basis. Could you talk about the implications for democracy of a system that favors representational democracy over state, or in Canada's case, provincial, representation?
EJH: Our House of
Commons is not elected
proportionally, although it (theoretically) features
representation-by-population, whereby each seat represents roughly the same
number of voters. However, even this system isn't very closely followed,
meaning that some of the urban electoral districts have as many as five times
the population of some rural ones. This is a combination of constitutional
issues and political reluctance to risk seats in rectifying it.