Not any more

Green party convention to focus on serious platform

In Canada on August 17, 2010 at 09:16

OTTAWA — Despite signs of internal grappling, Green party Leader Elizabeth May believes her party is on a roll heading into this weekend’s party convention.

With former NHL player Georges Laraque joining the team as her new deputy, Ms. May is hoping a unique party convention that encourages online participation will set a foundation that the party can build on in the future.

And the convention’s keynote speakers — Don Drummond, senior vice-president and chief economist of TD Bank, and Ilona Dougherty, co-founder of democracy-education project Apathy is Boring — highlight important themes she hopes to promote.

“We are really serious about being economically realistic and putting forward a platform that makes sense,” Ms. May said. “But as my appointment of Georges Laraque demonstrates, we are also desperately trying to figure out what do we do to engage people who have turned off politics.”

Mr. Laraque, who retired from hockey a few months after being released by the Montreal Canadiens, said he wants to convince Canadians that they need to start thinking green to protect the environment and promote new economic opportunities.

And he wants to reach people who don’t vote.

“It’s quite obvious that people don’t like politics, they don’t understand it or they think it’s boring,” he said. “Hopefully, when I come in, the fact that I don’t talk like a politician, I don’t use words that you’d barely find in the dictionary [or] that nobody understands, people [could] identify themselves with me much easier.”

About 200 to 300 are expected to attend the Toronto-based convention and hundreds of other participants can join in online discussions — keeping costs down as well as the event’s environmental footprint.

While Mr. Laraque said he entered politics and joined the Greens because he thinks Ms. May is one of the smartest people he knows, not everyone in the party is happy with the status quo.

Sylvie Lemieux, who represented the party during the last election in the eastern Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, has been pushing for a new leadership race to start another era in the party’s development on the national stage.

“We are at an important point in our history where we must decide if we’re a group of activists or a national political party,” said Ms. Lemieux, a civil engineer and former Canadian Forces lieutenant-colonel who served for 21 years. “If we are a national political party, there should be an expansion of our policies.”

Resolutions adopted by the party executive have all but dashed hopes for a leadership contest in the near future, but Ms. Lemieux has stressed that the party membership can still decide on their own this weekend on what course to take.

One analyst suggests Ms. May needs to answer questions about party finances following reports of debt problems and layoffs of staff and organizers.

Nelson Wiseman, of the University of Toronto’s political science department, said the Bloc Quebecois gets similar public funding through the per-vote subsidy but has managed to avoid organizational problems that have hurt the Greens.

“It’s true that the Green [party] is spread right across the country and the Bloc is concentrated in one province, but there are broader issues than that,” said Mr. Wiseman, who teaches a course on Canadian political parties.

Ms. May acknowledged that there has been some “belt-tightening” in recent months within her party and that it can do a better job in getting Canadians engaged with the Greens, but she said the Green party is still on track to be debt-free by January.

The Green party received close to one million votes in the 2008 federal election, giving it about 7% of the total popular vote.

With the party now hovering at around 10% of popular support in recent public-opinion polls, political scientist Kathy Brock believes the Greens could continue having an impact on shaping policy debated by other parties — all while playing a spoiler role that hurts both the Liberals and the NDP.

But Ms. Brock, of Queen’s University, said Ms. May must also start working on attracting more prominent candidates so that the image of the party doesn’t revolve solely around her.

“It’s really important for a party to do that when it’s gaining momentum because that will draw in more voters. Different people will appeal to different voters,” she said.

“It creates a future for the party, because it shows that this is a party that doesn’t just have one person to lead it; it has a number of choices that are open for the future, and people seem to like that in a democracy.”

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