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Green Party platform analysis – Edited Transcript of Interview with Global News: Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mark Winfield's take

Q: Who are the Greens targeting in their platform and why?

They are playing to their core constituencies, although there are things here as well that are broader.

The Greens’ base is relatively young, in terms of their demographic relative to the other parties. They share the same basic, post-materialist positioning as the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP supporters
Conservatives supporters are what political scientists tend to refer to as materialists – a very bread and butter, crime, law and order -- exactly the sort of stuff the Conservatives are pitching on.

Green voters are more post-materialist and the environment is part of that - so is a higher concern for social issues. You see some of that reflected here as well. It is a relatively broad platform that is more than just environment, although environmental issues are very central to it. It is very clearly positioning the party in the post-materialist, centre-progressive part of the Canadian political universe.

Q: The Green party is best known for its focus on the environment. Does the platform do enough to address other policy areas?

For about 50 per cent of Green voters the environment is the vote-determining issue. They do have to have a strong component there, but I think it is noteworthy that they are presenting a fairly comprehensive platform. Environment is quite central to it, but it is not just an environmental platform. I think that was notable in the previous election as well. It is a fairly comprehensive platform that covers off all of the major points in terms of foreign policy, governance, social issues. All of the major components are there. It’s not that different from what you are seeing from the other parties in that sense. Clearly there is an emphasis on the environment and an emphasis on the relationship between environment and economic development, but that’s not terribly surprising.

Q: What's in there for the environment? Are these policies sound?

What they are proposing on the environment front reflects pretty mainstream thinking about where we need go in terms of environmental policy. They are making some very strong connections between economic strategy, environmental protection, greening the economy, and not seeing environmental protection and economic development as being at odds with each other.

If you look at the Conservatives and some of their statements and they have really kind of gone with the language of balance and competition between economic development and environmental protection. They see it as being a zero-sum game, where one can’t win without the other losing. The Greens, consistent with present thinking about these things, are envisioning some degree of integration between environmental policy and economic policy.

That makes sense and a number of observers have argued that one way or another in the long-term there will be movement on the climate change issue on the global level and that we want to be positioning ourselves to supply the goods and services that support that kind of economy.

They talk about a carbon pricing architecture and 33 billion dollars of revenue coming from that. Clearly that is pretty central. They’ve actually got both a cap-and-trade and a carbon tax. Exactly how the two would interact is not clear.

Clearly they are moving in the direction of carbon pricing, but that again is entirely consistent with what anybody who studies climate change policy will tell you. Indeed, even the National Roundtable on Environment and Economy, which is now dominated by Conservative appointees, said exactly the same thing a few months ago. So this is pretty mainstream stuff. A lot of this wouldn’t look terribly out of place in a Liberal or NDP platform.

Q:Did anything from the Green platform surprise you?

Not really, given that they have kind of signalled some of this stuff before. It’s largely consistent with fairly mainstream thinking in environmental policy in Canada these days. It’s not a terribly radical platform from that perspective.

There’s obviously a pitch around moving towards some form of proportional representation, but given the nature of how the Greens performed in the last election, that’s hardly surprising. They got nearly a million votes and elected zero MPs, whereas the Bloc Quebecois got not that many more votes and elected 55 MPs. It’s not a radical notion that the current electoral system is rewarding parties that have a strong geographic concentration of their vote and penalizing parties that have a relatively even geographic distribution of their votes, which is very much the case with the Green party. It’s geographic distribution is remarkably even and the electoral system doesn’t reward that, which is a problem from a national unity perspective as well because it produce parties that play to a particular region - the Bloc Quebecois being the poster-child of this - instead of to the country.

Q: What do you think about the cost of this platform and how the Green is proposing to pay for it?

Clearly there’s not a lot of detail other than the budget detail page. The centerpiece is to adopt some kind of carbon pricing and to have offsetting reductions is EI and CPP contributions - what they are calling a carbon tax holiday. In effect there is a tax shifting onto carbon, which in theory is activities we want to discourage, and we want to reduce taxes on employment, which is effectively what the EI and CPP contributions are. In theory that again is consistent with what most people who have looked at these things have suggested in terms of the political strategy you would need to pursue to introduce carbon pricing.

The scale of it in terms of moving to relatively quickly to a $33-billion carbon tax within the next fiscal year is ambitious to put it mildly. This would be a fairly massive shift in the federal government’s revenue base, so from that perspective, it is interesting. It is daring. How much acceptance of that shift would actually be, I don’t know, but it is a very clear signal in terms of moving in a direction. In principle it is very consistent with what the basic policy discussions around this have suggested need to happen.

Q: Will this platform help or hurt the Green party?

It’s an interesting question. It’s helpful in the sense that it puts more substantial policy content into the conversation, which has been missing so far from the campaign. And it adds an environmental policy dimension.

It’s an interesting question as to whether it helps them or not. Their support has shrunk back a bit relative to where it has been in pre-election polling. It’s not clear where they are bleeding that support given that no other parties have, at this stage, presented a particularly bold or interesting environmental platform. It will certainly appeal to their base of environmentally-concerned voters and the younger cohort of voters within that. Whether it helps them pull voters back from the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP, it’s hard to say.

There is the question of strategic voting tied up in all of this as well. If those four parties are all competing for the same chunk of the vote and that constitutes somewhere in the range of 65 per cent of the electorate, I suspect a lot of people are thinking about strategic voting.

Q: Why launch the party platform as one big document and what do you think of the timing?

The timing is as good as any. The Liberals already have a platform out on the environment and the Greens have to get something out there too, particularly given that in the last couple of elections the biggest source of Green voters has been ex-Liberals. They need to draw them into the Green party and that means they have to come up with something that is more ambitious and more interesting than what the Liberals are offering, which is pretty vague at this stage of the game.

Q: It’s clear that May’s strategy has been to work her riding so far during this campaign. She’s released the platform in Toronto, should she be out selling it on the campaign trail?

That’s a complex question that goes to whether the Green’s interest is winning a seat in parliament for their leader or in maximizing the Green vote overall. There are interests both ways. Clearly the issue of the debate has reinforced that they need parliamentary representation of some sort. On the other hand, their numbers are going down quite dramatically from where they were in pre-election polling and where they are relative to their electoral performance last time. That suggests that if they want to maximize the vote, she has to get out of her own riding and generate some interest and activity.
It’s a bit of dilemma. You can see the argument both ways. Maximizing their overall vote in some ways increases the leverage and influence of environmental concerns in the other parties’ platforms because it demonstrates that a chunk of voters out there are prepared to vote on the issue of the environment. Maximizing the vote also increases their financial return because we finance parties now on a per-vote basis.

Q: Does the debate hurt Elizabeth May’s ability to sell her platform?

There’s no question that it does.

Q: What do you think is a more important factor for people in deciding who they vote for - party platform or the personality of the leader?

Both is the short answer. The platform is in theory what you are actually giving the government a mandate to do. A platform is an expression of what the leader and the party stand for and it’s what they would be held to. The platform articulates the choice for voters; in that sense it needs to be quite central. Part of what you are judging about the leader is their ability to follow through on the platform.

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