Green and growing

My story about being a Green politician in Canada, and why it was the best thing I ever did.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The morning after

This is my response to a friend who was feeling down after the election on Tuesday. What happens is that we develop higher and higher expectations during the election campaign. Then, when the results don't match our expectations, we experience a let down. Here's what I wrote:

Yes, it is normal to feel that way. During the campaign, we work hard to envision a victory. We imagine the people awakening to the same conclusions we have reached, that the system is broken and that it will take a new party like the Greens to fix it.

Then, after the votes are counted, there is a sobering reality check. It is not that we are wrong, nor that we are foolishly optimistic, nor that what we are working for is not important.

Rather, it is simply an acknowledgment that change requires time. Lifelong Liberal, Conservative and NDP voters are reluctant to change that behaviour, and all the rational argument in the world will not impact the emotional experience of voting. As you have experienced yourself, when you stand in the voting booth, you get a brief glimpse of the power of democracy. There is a mix of excitement, and a huge sense of responsibility, knowing that your X will impact the future of the country. For many people, they choose a safe alternative, out of fear of making a mistake.

So, today, tonight and tomorrow, we will sift through the results, and the emails, and the news reports and try to find some meaning for what appears to be a gap. We will analyze our own numbers to see what happened.

In the end, this is what we will find: We will find wonderful posts like John's which reminds us that we have made tremendous progress nationally, and that we have achieved a level of accomplishment never seen before in the party's history. The vast majority of the candidates will find that their vote increased. Mine went from 4% to 7%, and while I wanted a much bigger number, it still represents almost double the support from 2006. No other party doubled their support in my riding.

We will find that we have made new friends and supporters who will help us the next time. We will remember the amazing contributions that people made to help us in our ridings. We will remember the times that we inspired others. We can take pride in the community we are building.

Here is a little story, whose point is that you never know what influence you will have on people. Towards the end of the 2006 campaign, we had some money left, but not enough to do flyers for the whole riding. So, we did up a small black and white flyer, printed 20,000 copies and then began to figure out how we would distribute them. Within 48 hours, most went out in bulk distribution, and some went out as unaddressed ad mail. When I saw my results at 4%, I wondered if it had all been a waste. Well, it turns out that one person saw the flyer, liked what she saw and decided to become involved in the Green Party. Mary Ann Hodge became the candidate in London North Centre in this election, and she told me this story a month ago while we were stacking signs into a truck.

You have affected many people in and around your riding, but they usually don't pick up the phone to tell you. This is our reward, and this will eventually turn into votes, just as the seeds sown in spring grow when given sustenance and time. We are, in effect, gardeners of change, and our task is a marathon rather than a sprint. We live in a world that prefers instant solutions, but there are no such quick solutions for the significant issues of our time.

So, remember that sun has no comprehension of its importance to life on earth. In that same way, we continue to shine with the things we hold true, and holding up the same vision that we began with. There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Herding cats

My belief is that strategic voting is like herding cats. We like to think that voting is a rational process, but it is not. There are a lot of other emotional and psychological factors in play, including loyalty, peer influence, generational influence, attachment to particular issues, leader preferences, local candidate preferences, and level of engagement.

Remember that 40% of the potential voters in this country will not actually vote. So to suggest that some grand scheme cooked up by a third party with an axe to grind will massively influence this complex behaviour is absurd. What it does instead is simply reinforce the belief that the outcome of this election was largely determined by the outcome of the last election. Who benefits from that? The same parties that benefit from first past the post. The same parties that benefit from voter fatigue. The same parties that are in it to hold power at all cost.

First past the post is well past its expiry. It is better to cast a vote for what you believe, than to cast a vote for something you dislike, based on the assumption that someone else's prediction of the outcome is accurate and yet somehow avoidable.

I wonder what it was like in the old days when there were no polls? I guess people just voted for the candidate they thought would do best. With proportional representation, we could do that again.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A fitting letter from one of my Alberta friends

This letter was posted by William Munsey, the Green Candidate in Wainwright-Vegreville. I couldn't have said it better myself.


Dear Green Supporters (and skeptics) and Wainwright-Vegreville Press,

Well, I am done campaigning. I have visions of Leon Benoit scurrying
around the riding trying to pull in supporters... but I have farm work
today before I settle into my Thanksgiving dinner seat with my family
around me. Tonight I have to work on the railway. Monday, I have more
farm work and Tuesday I can vote and watch the numbers role in.

When I started this I have to admit that I had no real goals other than
to get the Green message out and prove that Greens are not whackos...
that most of us are just really plain folks concerned about the way we
neglect the environment.

Then a funny thing happened along the way. I started to hear what I
was saying from somewhere outside myself. I started to believe in a
deeper and more profound way what I was hearing... what I was saying.
I watched people as I spoke and saw them nod and agree. Sometimes when
I talked about a lack of time with family and friends and my sorrow at
losing something special in rural Alberta, I saw people's eyes mist up.

I could not believe they were moved by MY words.. by the things I worry

That is what changed. I opened up my heart to talk and people let me
in to their own hearts. That sort of sharing of hopes and dreams and
fears is a very powerful thing and I have been overwhelmed by it.
There is a great desire in this country to do things better, but many
people have shut off. What I saw over the past month is that they
would open up if they had something to trust in and hope for.

I don't pretend that 'something' is me, or even the Green Party. I
only know there is a huge wealth of goodness left in this country to
make it a better and more compassionate place for us to live in and
raise our families. What we have to do is find a way to tap that
spirit and the ideas that will make that possible.

I did my best this last month. I don't know that I could have done
much more. It has been hard on my wife and it has broken my heart to
call my kids while driving back late at night from somewhere and hear
my youngest daughter crying on the phone because I was not there for

I would not have done any of this if I did not think that in some way I
was doing it for my family.

Thank you all for your support, encouragement and help over this last

Tuesday, we will let the chips fall.

Vote! Our democracy is a gift to one another... something to be truly
thankful for.

I will no longer sign off with my Green Party title. I am back to
being a father, farmer and railroader.

I will write again with my thoughts and impressions a couple of days
after the election

William Munsey
New Sarepta Gardens
(Greenhouse and Berries)
P.O. Box 339
New Sarepta, Alberta

Friday, October 10, 2008

The home stretch

Our election system is called first past the post. Like the horse race, only one candidate wins, the one with the most votes. Unlike the horse race, the other candidates, and the voters who support them, are ignored for the next four years. More than ever, we need to change our system and bring in a form of proportional representation.

The polls are showing that the support for Mr. Harper's government is dropping like the leaves in fall (or the Leafs in spring, whichever comparison works best for you!). We now know that the war in Afghanistan will cost $18 billion, not $8 billion as we were earlier told. This is yet another example of the public being deceived by not having full access to information (this is called transparency .. one of the principles that Harper ran on in 2006).

Of course, you hear the howling now, arguing that the Liberals actually started the war, and therefore that they are responsible. This is an example of evading responsibility (this would have been called accountability .. the second principle that Harper ran on in 2006).

So there we have it. After two and a half years, the Conservatives decided to break their own fixed election date law, call an election we didn't need and cost us over $300 million. For what? They knew at the time, and stated at the time, that they thought they would get another minority. Well, it looks like the plan backfired, and now, it may be the Liberals that get the minority.

Will that change be worth it? I was looking at one of the sites that projects the seat counts in Canada based on polling numbers. This is a very inexact and speculative process, but I found something interesting in the results. The projection showed that the Green Party will receive significantly more votes than the Bloc Quebecois. However, the seat projection shows that the Bloc will get around 50 seats in the House of Commons, while the Greens may not get any (I think the number of Green seats will be higher than that, but their projection was 0).

How can that be, you ask? How can a party get more votes, and still be shut out? The main reason is that the Green support is not concentrated in one area of Canada. Greens are therefore systematically disadvantaged BECAUSE they appeal to all Canadians.

This is frustrating for all of us who believe that change is needed. First past the post is long past its expiry date. We need proportional representation so that we can begin to believe in our own democracy again.

The power in any democracy rests in the hands of the people. Please, everyone, no matter who you support, get out and vote for the party of your choice. This is especially true for students, for women and for groups whose needs are not well respresented by the mainstream parties. Let your voices be heard.

And while you're at it, have a close look at the Green Party platform, available at , and help us to change democracy forever. The Green Party cares for all Canadians, not just the ones who vote for us. We need your help.

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone. Thanks to all the folks who have helped us with the campaign in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex .

Wishing you peace,

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Change in the weather

This week we had our first hard frost. To me, that is the clearest reminder that winter is coming. We also experienced continuing concern about the financial markets, lead by the banking crisis in the US. We are also see the aftereffects of the leader's debates which aired on October 1 and 2.

For the election, the talk used to be about whether or not the Conservatives would get a majority. The polls suggest that such a thing is impossible now, and the talk is about whether or not Harper will hang on to power. What a difference a week makes!

I think it is appropriate for the Conservatives to lose some support right now. It's not because of their fundamental values, many of which I agree with. The problem is that they have set a new, low standard for ethics in government. It started the very first week. Harper appointed Michael Fortier to the portfolio of Public Works, even though he had not even run in the election (he was appointed to the Senate, but has never sat in the House of Commons to be accountable to the people). He brought in rules to prevent MP's from becoming lobbyists for a period of time, and simultaneously appointed a lobbyist to the Defence portfolio. To round out the cabinet, he added a Liberal or two, after convincing them to change teams. If I was a voter in one of those ridings, I would be pretty upset.

In the last weeks of the 39th Parliament, we saw the Prime Minister call an early election, breaking the spirit and intent of his own fixed election date law. Why? I believe that he wanted the election out of the way before the economic situation hit the fan. I guess he miscalculated that one. We saw multiple partisan fliers distributed at taxpayer expense into this riding and most other ridings in Canada. We didn't see the economic forecast that the government commissioned which indicated that carbon taxation would result in a positive GNP growth. Instead, we saw yet another round of negative advertising, some of which was run prior to the election call so that it would not be included in the spending limits that govern elections.

We are still waiting to hear the results of the inquiry into the Cadman affair, the abuse of spending limits in the 2006 election (the in-and-out scandal) and exactly which confidential documents did the Minister of Foreign Affairs leave at his girlfriend's apartment for her to dispose of.

All in all, I think it is appropriate that this government should be taught a lesson. They have done nothing to improve our trust of elected officials at a time when we desperately need to have faith in our leaders.

It's time to try something new. I hope that you will have a close look at the Green Party. Please give me a chance to show you that government can be done better!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

How to tell is a poitician is lying to you

I post this, in part, because I heard a great joke.

Q: How can you tell that a politician is lying to you?
A: Their lips are moving.

I hope it is not so bad as that. In my travels, I have learned a few things. First of all, the eyes are the window to the soul. I often get a strong sense of who a person is from their eyes. If someone doesn't look at you when they are talking, it sets off a little alarm in my mind.

Politicians have some special ways of trying to convince people to support them. Three of these are often used together, and are sometimes referred to as a F.U.D. attack. The three elements are Fear, Uncertainty and Deception. The way it is done is to create some real or imagined fear within the audience that something might happen, then emphasize the uncertainty of the future to expand the fear and then use deception to suggest that the best way to seek relief from this fear is to support the politician.

This approach has been used over and over again in Canadian politics. Here is a good example in only four words: "Not worth the risk". This simple phrase raises the fear of risk and uncertainty, and concludes with an opinion stated as fact.

Here is another example. If there is economic uncertainty in a region, you might raise the fear of possible future job loss, and then suggest that your solution is the only bright future. Trust me, you say.

I tell you about this in the hope that you will evaluate the messages you see in this campaign and beyond. I don't believe in this kind of manipulation. I believe in showing Canadians the Green Vision for the future of Canada, and helping them to understand what that means. I believe in being honest in identifying and evaluating our current situation, and likewise for the government policies that have gotten us to where we are now. I believe that if something if broken, it should be fixed. Even if it is a big problem, like global climate change, we must begin to maturely face the information available to us, and begin to implement incremental solutions. As the Chinese proverb says, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Remaining positive

I am trying to walk a delicate balance in this election between two opposing messages. The first message, central to my beliefs and my role as a Green candidate, is to tell people about how the Green party will move us forward into a better Canada, taking care of our people, our country and our planet. The second message is that the system we have is broken and needs fixing, and I think that Greens are really the only party that can do that.

I recently ran an ad in Today's Farmer where I tried to balance these two messages. This was to support the positions I took at the agricultural debate in Alvinston on Wednesday. Sometimes, when I point out the flaws of our system, I worry that I come across as negative. That is not my intention. Rather, I think it is important to objectively assess the performance of our parliament and politicians. Often, the objectivity of party messages is suspect, and so we must rely on an informed electorate to be fair in their evaluation and thorough in their investigations.

I point out in my ad that every party present in the last election promised meaningful agricultural change. Of those parties, the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP won a total of 256 seats out of 308 in the House of Commons. Yet still, they could not get together on an issue that they all agree upon, and put something together that would help Canadian farmers. My point is, why repeat that mistake again? Let's not keep doing this over and over again and hope some better outcome.

If we continue to vote the way we've always voted, then we will continue to get the kind of government we've always had.

So that is why the positive message of the Green Party is so important. It is our light at the end of the tunnel. I also believe that the light is closer than we think.