Greens in power

by Elizabeth May

portrait of Elizabeth May • Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada and Canada’s first elected Green MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands. She is the author of eight books on environmental and political topics, including her latest work Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada, which was published last month.

November 12: Elizabeth May launches her new book, 7:30PM, Canadian Memorial United Church & Centre For Peace, 1825 W. 16th Ave., Vancouver.

November 29: Elizabeth speaks at the Green Gala fundraiser in Vancouver. (See for more details and tickets)

Greens in power. It is worth getting used to those words. But what will it mean? What would it look like?

Greens are now in coalition governments in Finland, Sweden and France. In the past, German Greens in coalition created the renewable energy and solid waste policies of Germany. Greens in coalition helped Sweden establish a carbon tax.

And in Australia in the previous election, between Julia Gillard for the Labour Party and Tony Abbott for the right wing coalition, it only took one Green MP, Adam Bandt from Melbourne, to give Labour the right to govern. One seat was the balance of power.

Thanks to the current Swedish Greens, holding the vice-prime minister role and environment minister, Sweden is the most ambitious in urging the deepest carbon reductions for the European Union in advance of the 2015 deadline for a new climate treaty. And Sweden is the first country in the EU to recognize the state of Palestine. The Minister of Environment in Finland is a Green and the Minister of Development in France is a Green.

In New Brunswick in September, NB Green Party Leader David Coon won a seat, nearly emerging with the balance of power. The TV pundits were shocked. They had, for months, forgotten to report that there even existed such a thing as a Green Party of New Brunswick. And now it was the third party of New Brunswick.

In Vancouver City Council, three Greens – Adriane Carr, Pete Fry and Cleta Brown – could do three times as much as one. Adriane Carr as the one Green member on Vancouver City Council has already made a significant difference for transparency, accountability and green values. Imagine what three could do.

And for nearly the last year, with two Green MPs in our federal parliament, we have changed the nature of the debate and raised issues ignored by others.

But the central difference is not in partisanship; it is in how we approach power.

Power is a dangerous commodity. It corrupts. St. Paul knew this and warned of it in his letter to Timothy. From a slightly less sacred text, Tolkien knew it too. Poor miserable Gollum was distorted, ruined and ultimately destroyed by his addiction to the Ring. The Ring stood as a metaphor for power. Holding power to transform societies requires a group of brave people who are incorruptible.

Greens in power avoid the seduction and corrupting allure of power. We have a track record globally of handling power by sharing it. Power is extremely dangerous when concentrated in a few hands. Power is benign and even beneficial when shared.

For Canadians who yearn for better government and who share my concern that our current parliament has degenerated into an elected dictatorship, how do we restore democracy? How do we find the system of our traditions? We are a nation whose system of government depends on accepting that all MPs are equal, that the Prime Minister reports to Parliament and not the other way around and that Parliament controls the public purse. Yet every one of those precepts is violated and treated with contempt daily.

We can fix what is wrong with democracy. But the first step is to find a hobbit to hold the ring.

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