Jackson Doughart
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In an election without ideas, don't forget the Green message

The Cadre, 03 October 2011

This fall’s provincial election campaign has confirmed my annoyance with the state of affairs in P.E.I. politics, especially concerning the lack of foundational political ideas that separate the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives. This became particularly apparent during the leaders’ debate held at UPEI on September 22, which was bogged down by unproductive bickering about the mismanaged Provincial Nominee Program. Contrary to what their representatives may tell you, both of our main parties are status-quo machines in a polity divided along partisan lines yet united in its political outlook.

I found that this conviction was reinforced by the televised leaders debate from Ontario which I watched online last week. The contending parties in the Ontario provincial election have different political philosophies which became apparent as the debate moved along. These differences also combined with skirmishes about specific policies to create a very interesting discussion.

Ontario’s PC leader, Tim Hudak, is a fairly conventional Blue Tory and spent much of his time complaining about high property taxes and scholarships for international students. Andrea Horwath of the New Democrats is a socialist who committed to maintaining the public health system at any cost. Dalton McGuinty is the incumbent Liberal premier and had to fend off attacks from both of his opponents, but still managed to outline some of his party’s ideas.

Obviously Ontario and Prince Edward Island are starkly different provinces and it would be unwise to succumb to false equivalence, but the fact that Ontario’s contending parties embody competing political ideas is very healthy and certainly provided for a nice balance to its leaders debate. I wish we had more of it here.

However, one bright spot from the UPEI debate was Sharon Labchuk, the leader of the Green Party. Ms. Labchuk appears to be a very serious and thoughtful person who is in politics for the right reasons. She has some strong beliefs and gives the impression of being a woman of principle. Though it is clear that she is primarily concerned with environmentalism, she is well versed in other matters as well. Without any doubt, she is the strongest of the small-party candidates.

As Ms. Labchuk has been eager to point out, quotidian political discourse on P.E.I. lacks long-term vision and is based around election cycles. Part of what attracts me to her is this very point, as well as her insistence that proposals for sustainable development need to consider long-term consequences.

I am not so naive as to believe that the Greens stand a chance at winning today’s election or even taking a single seat in the Assembly, but I do think that their message is one that we should take seriously. Though each of the Green candidates is likely a wholesale subscriber to the highly-politicized ecology movement, whose methods and interests are not above scrutiny, the party has focused its campaign on environmental issues that pertain specifically to P.E.I.

In particular, the Greens have drawn our attention to the consequences of pesticide use, including fish kills from agricultural run off, elevated levels of harmful chemicals in soil and in the water supply, and health problems that result from exposure to such chemicals. While these effects clearly deserve their own discussion in both ethical and economic terms, we should also remember that P.E.I. promotes itself internationally as a “pristine, pastoral paradise”: a beacon of untainted natural beauty in an industrialized world. By failing to mitigate these consequences, we may be jeopardizing the future of our tourism industry as well.

If nothing else, Ms. Labchuk and her followers provide a committed voice for these issues, which are often left unaddressed by the main parties. Even if it has to be done outside of the mainstream political process, a grassroots movement that advocates responsible relations between commerce and the environment is advantageous to the entire province. In the specific case of Ms. Labchuk, her work over the past decade as an activist certainly merits the respect of Islanders and would doubtless bear greater fruit in the legislature itself. More importantly, though, is the salience of the Green critique of P.E.I.’s environmental policy, which should be considered by all Islanders, regardless of the election result.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com