As I discussed in a recent op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, I have an idea about how to change Canadian politics on the environment. The problem is that don’t have a lot of spare time on my hands. I’ve got two young sons to take care of, a PhD dissertation to finish, mercenary research-for-hire to conduct,
and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped!
So I need some help. The original idea for the Green Party to shift in form and method from a formal party encouraging people to vote for an all-too-often marginal Green Party, to encouraging Canadians to vote for the greenest electable candidate.
Needless to say, I’m waiting by the phone for a call from high ranking Green Party officials to ask for advice on how best to wind down their party, and wind up the Green Network. Somewhat mysteriously however, no such call has come just yet.
Luckily, I have a Plan B, to tide us over until the Greens come around. The goals are still the same as that previous scheme, namely to mobilize “small-g” green voters to vote for candidates that can actually win, and send representatives to Parliament willing and able to change Canada’s unacceptable legislative and diplomatic record on the environment. The means are different, however: a little less institutionalization, a little more grass roots organization. This is how it goes (though obviously every step is open to debate):
Step 1: a national campaign, prior to the election, encouraging Canadians concerned about the environment to pledge to become “small-g voters.” It would be a commitment along the following lines:
“I am a small-g green voter. I will vote for a green champion in my riding, supporting the most competitive candidate that I believe will make a real difference in Canada’s approach to climate change.”
Step 2: a crowd-sourced effort—an obvious format for organizing this step would be a kind of wiki—to identify green champions in each riding in the run up to the election. The key question to answer is this: among candidates who can actually win (to my mind this generally means polling first or second, or perhaps third in close contests), who do we think has the most credible commitment to support strong federal government action on the environment? Put differently, who is the most environmentally conscious and committed candidate among those who are actually electable?
As election date grows closer, each riding could have its own page, on which contributors could debate the merits of the candidates. There would have to be some way to police overt partisanship, but this should be manageable with the right safeguards in place for contributor registration. There could also be separate discussions of each party platform, since the party’s positions are obviously an important consideration in assessing any given candidate’s environmental credibility. Candidates for some parties can claim to have credibility on environmental issues given previous actions and current positions; others cannot.
Step 3: Promotion of both the pledge and the consensus green champions prior to and especially during the next election. While the pledge is worded to empower each voter to select their champion themselves, obviously the more that every small-g voter agrees in a given riding on who that champion is, the more likely their votes are going to result in an environmentally friendly outcome.
This process should have a number of effects. First, simply by mobilizing green-conscious voters as an identifiable (and woo-able) group within the population, it incentivises all parties to compete for those votes by adopting more aggressive environmental policies. The result ought to be that all (or at least most) parties become more committed to quick and definitive action on climate change.
Second, the selection of “green champions” at the riding level helps to coordinate voters at the level that matters most for choosing our government. Elsewhere I discuss how in many places in the country, green voters actually hold the balance of power at the riding level.
That’s it, at least for now. Once the election is over, new tasks would emerge, such as keeping tabs on promises made, kept, and broken—information vital for determining whether incumbents elected with green network support have lived up to their commitments, and ought to be supported in subsequent elections.
I think this is doable. It requires is a bit of help to get started—most importantly in setting up some sort of web presence, and giving the idea some sort of push into the internetal ether—encouraging as many people as possible to commit to being a small g voter (#smallgvoter for those of you on the twitter) in the next election.
Then, as election time draws closer, additional tasks would include assembling research on candidate positions on the environment. This could be done passively by relatively few volunteers using means such as parsing of candidate statements on relevant subjects, reviewing results in previous elections, and collating riding level polling data where available. With more help, it could also be done actively through the administration of short questionnaires to candidates, asking questions about policies they would support, their stances on Kyoto and Copenhagen, their willingness to reach across the aisle to achieve action on climate change, etc.
Comments below are welcome. If you think this so crazy it just might work, I’d like to hear that; if it’s too crazy (or not crazy enough!) I want to hear that too. If you’re interested in helping see where an idea like this can go, well obviously I’d like to hear about that.