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The Greens: The Undemocratic and Ungreen Foundations of Green Leader Jim Harris

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The Greens get the blues.

You've heard of the bourgeoisie? Now there's the "Turquoisie" - the Jim Harris blue-greens.

by Stuart Hertzog
July 30, 2004

Cheerful and ebullient, federal leader Jim Harris appears to be propelling the Green Party of Canada towards national electoral success. But behind the upbeat election results and the prospect of almost a million dollars a year in federal financing to power future growth, the Green party of Canada may be headed for a major split at its upcoming biennial convention August 26 to 29 in Calgary.

Although the Greens won 580,000 votes in this year's federal election, taking 4.3 per cent of the votes cast by Canadians and breaking the magical two per cent barrier for the first time, Harris's brand of right-wing, market-based environmental and economic policies plus his unexpectedly ruthless internal manoeuvrings and manipulations have alienated many of the party's more traditional "deep" Greens.

Backed by the conservative Ontario Greens and its leader Frank de Jong, Harris has moved the federal Green party so far to the right that it's barely a "green" party any more. And his attempt to cement himself in power may well backfire.

"Jim Harris's vision is centralized control of the party administration with the participation of two or three of the thirteen provincial and territorial fiefdoms," wrote long-time party member and Thunder Bay resident Charles Campbell to dissident greens on their very active and decidedly anti-Harris New Green email list. "It is driven by borrowing against future funding and has as its goal the creation of a personality cult around the Leader," Campbell thundered. "Its approach to policy is to hide our history and create a neo-con vision of green economics driven by how profitable ecological business can be."

Campbell is a former chair of the federal Green party's policy committee. Instead of calling for more funding for environmental protection, the Green party's 2004 election platform stressed voluntary compliance by polluters and green tax-shifting. Printed on glossy paper, the 60-page, full-colour booklet is full of feel-good words and contradictions. It called for a leaner, "smarter" civil service and tax cuts on income, profit and investment, made revenue-neutral by increased taxes on "bads" such as pollution and fossil fuels.

But the platform's promotion of the ISO 14000 self-regulation standard as a way of encouraging corporations to achieve pollution compliance really rankled many enviro greens. Introduced under the heading Industry: Profiting from Progress, it promised tax breaks for companies certified compliant to ISO 9000 and 14000.

Branded by Campbell as "policy pablum," the Green party platform also was judged deficient by Canadian environmentalists, scoring less than Jack Layton's "green NDP" policies in a combined analysis by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.

Even the way the election platform was put together alienated the faithful.  Instead of being hashed out and ratified by members, Harris hired an employee to shape his eco-capitalist ideology into a feel-good document. Coming out of right field, the policy platform blindsided the 308 Green election candidates.

"If most members of the party are not familiar with ISO 14000, then why are we pushing it?" asked Campbell. "How many of our candidates were given quality briefing material on this or any other platform item? How many had any input?"

Perhaps the Green party's new-found leniency towards corporations stems from Harris's corporate consulting activities. According to his bio on the Green party's official web site, "Jim Harris is one of North America's foremost authors and thinkers on change and leadership."

Harris's corporate clients include Agilent Technologies, Barclays Bank, Centra (Gas?), Columbia Tristar Pictures, Deloitte & Touche, the European Snack Food Association, Johnson & Johnson, MasterCard, Munich Re, NEC, Worldwide Express, and the UK Cabinet Office.

Corporate clients of a leader of a Green party? It's true - and not too shabby a list for the leader of a party whose roots extend deep into the global anti-corporate movement. Sure, even capitalists must be educated about green values, but mixing business with green politics puts Harris in a conflict of interest.

Harris entered politics while at university, where he was a campus Tory. Reading the book Green Politics by Fritjof Capra and Charlene Spretnak, which traced the early development of Green parties, convinced Harris to join the Greens in 1985.

He became Organizing Chair for the Green Party of Ontario in the provincial election of 1990, and Toronto organizer for the Green party of Canada in the federal election of 1993. Harris was elected President of the Green Party of Ontario in 2001.

After an unsuccessful challenge to become federal leader, which he lost to left-leaning Joan Russow, who has since defected to the NDP, Harris was successful at becoming leader of the federal party in August, 2003, winning over 80 per cent of the votes.

He soon found the inexperienced federal council members no match for his political skills and quickly assumed total control. Within less than a year of his being elected leader, six of the 10 federal council members quit after Harris successfully undermined their authority. Two others resigned later.

Three of the original six, including former chair Gretchen Schwarz, were recruited by an eager NDP. Welcomed into Jack Layton's inner circles, Schwarz became co-chair of Jack Layton's environment committee and ran as a candidate in Pontiac in Quebec, coming fourth with 2317 votes but beating out the riding's Green candidate.

Schwarz points to Harris's insistence on unilateral decision-making within the council as the underlying reason why she and the others resigned. "He was completely unreceptive to anyone's input. Only his proposals were considered," she explained. "Our choices were either to go along to get along (with what he wanted) or fight and be branded obstructionist."

Harris failed at being included in the televised national leaders' debate, but electing a Green MP to parliament doesn't seem to be the main issue. It seems to be more about getting and controlling the federal money to pay for this election and build the party for the next, keeping Harris and his band of eco-conservatives in power, and steering the Greens towards the right of centre in Canadian politics.

The party's "deep" greens have a tough fight ahead. An omnibus motion written by an Ontario party policy wonk if passed at the Calgary convention would rewrite the party's constitution, vest total control in the national leadership, and would let the leader remain in power almost until he or she decided to retire. This is in direct contradiction to original Green opposition to the centralized, hierarchical, authoritarian and anti-grassroots structures of other political parties.

Another motion seeks to allocate the federal funding so that debts of the national office are paid first, with money flowing to local green party electoral associations only after that. The national party office could rack up a sizeable deficit knowing that this would be covered, while local campaigns would be starved of funds. This would give Harris a lot of discretion over party spending, especially with limited oversight by a tame federal council dominated by his supporters. Already, the national office has put out a call for a professional consultant to review and assess the party's organizational structure and define job descriptions along with proposed salary and benefits for any new positions.

There's a small hitch: Harris's leadership is up for review for another two years at the party's biennial convention to be held outside of Calgary at the end of August. He's running against Ottawa-area organic farmer Tom Manley and deep green, Valemont B.C. resident John Grogan, who is handicapped by living in a remote rural area. Grogan complains that he has not been able to access the party's mailing list to promote his leadership bid, and may not run.

With the 2004 election success to claim as his own, Harris is favoured to win - despite the fact that much of the increased Green vote came from people expressing dissatisfaction with other political parties. Most probably didn't even know that Harris was leader and certainly didn't understand his political drift.

The party's "deep" Greens likely will be few in number at the Calgary convention, but if their discontent spreads to other delegates, Ontario agriculture critic Manley may emerge as the compromise candidate. He's already making soothing statements to the effect that he understands that this rift in the party must be healed.

"The Green Party has gone from a relatively small party to the smallest of the big parties," he stated in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen. "That means we have a lot of people out there who have sometimes differing and sometimes conflicting expectations and understanding of the Green Party. 

"Our major challenge is to unite these people ... and that is a big challenge."

Soon, the future of the Green Party of Canada will be decided by those few members who can afford to travel to Calgary and pay the $175 registration fee. But as the existing constitution states that any constitutional changes must be acceptable to and reviewed by the entire membership, this attempt to legitimize what in essence has been a political coup may not be legal.

If Harris survives the challenge to his leadership and the restructuring passes, the Green party of Canada will not be the same one that set out over 20 years ago to reshape Canadian politics. Some say it won't be a "green" party at all.

Stuart Hertzog is a Victoria-based writer and environmental activist who has been a member of and run as a candidate for both the provincial NDP and the B.C. Green Party, but not at the same time. He is now not a member of any political party.

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