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  • Kevin Bowers

Why I won't Vote for the 3 Big Parties

Updated: Oct 21, 2019

This is what our 3 big parties are defending.
Tar Sands

I wrote this article just before the last election in 2015 when Trudeau and Harper were vying for office. In part I re-hash it now as an immature and inglorious ‘Told ya so’. More importantly though, I want to underline the point that our political casino in Ottawa is built with neo-liberal illusions, and all the cards that are being dealt by the major parties come from the same deck. Sure they have different pictures on the back, but no matter which dealer we elect, we are playing the same game.

This is why my predictions were easy. I knew the Liberal party would play left and reign right. I was desperate to be wrong, but no such luck.

One might argue that things are different this time, but I don’t see it. Look at Jagmeet Singh’s position on the now former NDP Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley. He said she, “launched the most aggressive and comprehensive climate change plan in Canada.” If this is his vision of ‘aggressive and comprehensive’ we are in deep trouble. When Jagmeet said this, she was a fierce supporter of the Kinder Morgan pipe line and was friendly with the carbon industry in Alberta.

You might suggest that Jagmeet has changed policies and point of view, but forgive me if I don’t have much faith in a person who changes their rhetoric and opinions in the middle of an election about an issue that has been glairing and inescapable for decades.

Our predicament is profound and dire enough that we need ideological change, not just better dental care within the existing system.

To our south there is an example of what it might look like to question our neo-liberal system. Bernie Sanders campaign is asking for:

· A Green New Deal that promises to create 20 million jobs to avert climate catastrophe.

· Free College for all.

· Forgive ALL student debt.

· Workplace democracy that fundamentally changes the rules of employment and the roles of unions in America.

· Get corporate money out of politics.

· Housing for all.

· Taxing extreme wealth.

· Wall Street reforms.

· Corporate Accountability and Democracy that will give workers a stake in the companies they work for.

These bullets are what an honest to goodness attempt to restructure our economy and politics looks like. And with these policies Bernie just had a rally in New York where about 25,000 people showed up. That is a movement, and a movement is what we need. Last week Montrealers with Greta’s help showed us that that there is a hunger for real change, but we have yet to see the political version of such a movement.

Jagmeet’s Green platform is pushing for 300,000 new jobs. Bernie’s platform adjusted to our population would be 2,000,000 jobs. The NDP is about 7 times less aggressive than Bernies. My friends, that is not good enough to build either a movement or a sustainable future.

I wish we had a party that was willing to question the status quo with vision and vigour. We need a platform and party that could inspire the young and disengaged with novel and energetic and bold policies. The Green Party is closest, but nowhere near the scope and guts of Bernie’s plan.

I will vote Green like I did in 2015. I hope they do well, but I’m really looking for bigger vision. When I go to the Green Party web site I see good stuff, but they play it safe in a way that dampens the kinds of enthusiasm that is going to be required to create a movement. They talk a lot about being fiscally responsible and they talk of working with parliament in respectful ways. No matter how diplomatic and kind, there is no way that Jason Kenny or Doug Ford is going to co-operate with Elizabeth May if she pushes deep structural change.

Bernie was clear on this point. He will not go golfing with the Republican elite in an attempt to get progressive policy passed. He knows that they have been bought and paid for. He will instead become an ‘Organizer and Chief’ and turn to the American people. He will lead a movement that will get millions engaged in a revolutionary project that demands change. The end goal is that the Republicans and corporate Democrats would loose credibility and power, and the policies that our planet needs and that people want can be enacted.

Elizabeth May wants to be welcomed and fit into the system whereas Bernie wants to change the system. Bernie’s project gets people excited and motivated and pushing for the kinds of changes that could indeed save our climate and civilization. I hope the Greens learn from Bernie’s revolution.

That said, the carbon numbers the Green Party is putting forward to combat climate collapse are by far the best, and they do represent a much more bold and serious vision for the only future we have.

As for the Liberals, NDP, and Conservatives, they represent a radical status quo that is too dangerous to contemplate.

Here is the article that I wrote in 2015:

Why I Won’t Vote for any of the 3 Big Parties

I find myself in heated disagreements with people that I respect. They will vote Liberal or NDP if it stops Harper. My dread of Harper is no less visceral, and I will be very relived if he does very poorly in the upcoming election. My argument is that the Liberals and the NDP are not sufficiently different from the Conservatives. None of the three major parties question fundamentals about our economy or our environment. They are all part of a system that both promotes and defend austerity and carbon extraction, and even though they are better than the Conservatives, we can’t afford to follow the trajectory of any of the major parties.

Just about the only thing that the Global Climate change talks have agreed upon is that 2% of warming is what we can hope to aim for in order to avoid ‘catastrophic global warming’ by centuries end. It is also uncontroversial that without fundamental economic and environmental policy changes a child entering our school system today is looking at 4-6% of warming in their lifetime. 4-6% of warming is so extreme that scientists are unable to create climate models. Yet none of the 3 major parties are able to even consider a future outside of the present economic system. The 4-6% scenario is what will happen if we burn the carbon that is already part of our economy. It is already part of our pension plans and our RRSP’s. We don’t need Steven Harper to get us to 4-6% we just need to follow the already agreed upon rules of our economic system, and the Liberals and NDP are part of that system.

As it stands now, progressive Canadians are experiencing anger, frustration, and fear. They hate what Harper stands for and they are deeply concerned about their future. These are exactly the right emotions for these perilous and absurd times. If the NDP win our anger will dissipate, and our frustration will be relieved. We will be proud that our country did something right and negotiated ourselves out of this absurd Harper crisis. As we celebrate and perhaps even get some excellent day care policy, we will still be heading towards 4-6% of warming. There is nothing in the NDP platform that makes me believe that they have any intention of reimagining the fundamentals of our economy that, as Naomi Klien states, is ‘at war with the planet’. When one of their star candidates Linda McQuiag noted that, ‘some oil may have to stay in the ground in order to meet our climate change commitments’, the NDP swiftly reassured the media and the electorate that she was talking out of turn and that she didn’t represent NDP policy. Clearly Tom Mulcair needed to keep his progressive wing happy while not frightening ‘industry’, so he repeated his phrase that the NDP will ‘develop the Tar Sands sustainably’. This makes us feel better, but it is nonsense. The Tar Sands are not sustainable. If we develop the tar sands, then children entering the school system today will experience 4-6% of warming in their lifetime. The present political dynamics lead progressive voices that celebrate, defend, and vote for an economic and political system that will lead to an existential environmental catastrophe.

I suspect that most people will poo poo that last sentence. The words ‘existential’ and ‘catastrophe’ don’t seem real; they seem unbalanced and too emotional. Underlying the reader’s suspicion that I am some kind of extremist is an optimistic belief that everything is going to be OK; that nothing is going to get that bad, that a reasonable future will unfold and we will carry on. I understand that optimism, but it is very dangerous. I’m 47, and I’ve lived almost half a century and nothing too crazy has happened. I instinctually share this optimism, but reason and science should trump instinct. Think about the 20thcentury. As European nations stared each other down in 1913, no one could conceive the existential catastrophe that awaited them, but nonetheless in 4 short years 17,000,000 would be dead. And a mere 30 years later 60,000,000–85,000,000 would die in an unconceivable orgy of violence. And a mere 30 years after WWII, but for the heroism of a Russian Submarine Captain who refused to follow the order to push the button, we narrowly missed Atomic Armageddon. So in the last century we had two full on existential catastrophes and one near miss.

The lesson of modern history is not that everything will be alright. The lesson is that existential catastrophes happen fairly often. Our generation has been lucky not unique. Furthermore we have benefits that the architects and victims of the two world wars didn’t have. Our economic ‘war on the planet’ is well documented. We have science telling us that global warming and a general environmental collapse is not only pending but happening.

I can’t vote for a party that perpetuates and defends the very economic models that are leading us to this predictable crisis. I would need real evidence that the NDP would be willing to educate the population, and negotiate a new and optimistic future away from carbon, yet they can’t even publicly concede that ‘some oil may have to stay in the ground’.

The arguments that I face when I talk to smart well informed people about my concerns have the following themes:

I am not practical, and I’m too idealistic.

In response to the accusation that I am not ‘practical’ I will separate the technologicallypractical from the politicallypractical. Is it technically feasible to move away from carbon? This is an engineering problem, and the answer is yes. Yes we can become sufficiently efficient with our energy use and create enough energy without carbon to power our lives. It would require a massive economic and infrastructure investment, but technically it can be done.

Is it politically practical? No. Not in the present economic and political culture. Which is why we need change. We need leaders who will challenge the present economic orthodoxy and educate people about the fantastic boon for jobs, health, democracy, and world peace that would be the practical outcome of massive infrastructure investments in green technologies.

Voting for a system that will predictably lead to unconceivable horrors is not practical. If we stray from idealism for political expediency we don’t only lose idealism, but our only chance at being practical about our future. If we concede our idealism and join the status quo we are in serious trouble. I am very afraid that if the NDP or Liberals win, we will be relieved and satisfied with a more palatable status quo. Contentment in the face of an existential catastrophe is dangerous. Serious carbon science will tell you that nothing even close to the status quo is sufficient to save our grandchildren.

One might argue that if we vote NDP, we will just have to keep pushing them left. And this is true, but in my lifetime, I have yet to see a political party gain power and then move to the left. The only possible exception is Richard Nixon. He passed both the clean air act and the clean water act because millions of people were in the streets demanding it. If we get an NDP government, we will not have millions of people in the street, but we will have oil and financial interests and the media badgering the NDP to maintain a status quo on environment and economic policy.

To great surprise and satisfaction of many the NDP won in Alberta. Here is thefirst paragraphfrom an article in the Financial Post not long after this historic victory for the left:

Encouraged by a surprisingly pro-oilsands speech this week by Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley and a series of visits from senior members of her team, oil industry executives are feeling more optimistic that their message to hold off on major royalty changes is getting through.

It is not only unpractical but it is extremely dangerous to have both a happy tar sands industry and contented progressive voters, yet this is what Alberta got for voting for the most left of our major parties.

When Obama was elected there was palpable excitement and optimism. The absurd and evil Bush was defeated, and a candidate that seemed to understand our dread was in the White House. As Matt Taibi writes he was:

Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy.

Taibi continues:

What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place.

That was in the first days of his presidency. More recently he piled huge amounts of political capital into fast tracking the TPP, an insane and undemocratic top-secret trade deal written by industry that will vastly limit future politicians ability to deal with climate change. He argues with Republicans about who is more willing to drill in Alaska. He has used the Espionage Act to go after more whistle blowers than all other presidents combined, he expanded the war on Terror into the Drone Era, he refused to prosecute any one for Bush era torture crimes (except for John Kiriakou the whistle blower that exposed the torture), and he started a war without congressional approval in Libya. If Bush or McCain, or any other Republican had done these things the Left would be outraged and motivated for change. Yet in the face of all of this absurdity Democrats continue to defend Obama. Even those who are disenchanted with Obama give him a pass because, ‘he is better than the alternative’. The line is always the same: ‘the Republicans would be worse’.

On several levels they are right. The Republicans would be worse. And Harper would be worse than Mulcair in many ways. I have a lot of sympathy for gay people who have received respect and recognition unthinkable under a Bush or Harper. I could make a list of the ways that the left spectrum policies and rhetoric would be better than the rights, but, in the end, the orthodoxy that Obama or Mulcair defend will lead us to 4-6% of warming. And the part that really concerns me is that their policies will be defended and celebrated by the very people who must remain outraged and afraid. In the US there must be 50,000,000 people who would have been outraged and politically engaged if the Republicans had won in 2008. If a 1/10 or even 1/1000 of the 50,000,000 had joined the Occupy Movement, or took to the streets and social media, we might be having far more interesting and accurate assessment of our present crisis.

Giving Obama a pass on his environmental record or voting for the ‘sustainable extraction from the tar sands’ are not practical decisions. Global warming is chemistry. The atmosphere doesn’t care how good we feel about ourselves, it doesn’t notice that our leaders seem well intentioned, it doesn’t respond to our optimism and hope. We need to re-imagine our future. We need the guts to question the foundational memes of our political, economic and environmental status quo. By being ‘practical’ and not ‘too ideological’ and voting for the NDP or the Liberals or Hillary Clinton for that matter, we give credence to the ideologies that are ‘at war with the planet’.

I often get, ‘But the Greens can’t win’. And it is true that right now they can’t. And I’m not a die-hard Green supporter. I will vote for anyone who is willing to articulate the failures and dangers of our present conventional wisdom. A focused and articulate response to the climate crisis could and should be full of optimism. We could be looking at a bright future with plentiful well paying jobs, clean air, cool transportation grids and electric cars, local yummy food, rich urban centers, no wars over oil, fairer distribution of wealth, and a re-invigorated democracy. But we need to vote for parties and people who are willing to face the pundits and naysayers of the establishment media and to take on the political and industrial bullies and their PR firms.

In the United States, Bernie Saunders is doing a bit of that… I’d vote for him. In Canada, Elizabeth May is doing a bit of that (not as much as I’d like) but I’ll vote for her. In a world full of madness and misinformation a little bit of truth and clarity is better than slightly diluted madness and misinformation.

If I was thirsty, and Harper offered me a glass that was stinky and bubbly with deadly poison, then Mulcair came in and offered me a clear glass of water with less but still deadly poison… I wouldn’t drink either. I would search elsewhere for a clean tall glass of H2O, and then I’d squeeze a lemon into it and fill it with ice and sit in the shade with some friends. Then I would drink.

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