In coalition, the fiscally-conservative Greens and environmentally-timid NDP have expressed the best of their platforms, and canceled out the worst.
For progressive-minded people in Canada, the last few days have presented a rare, strange scenario: almost too much to celebrate.
Months might pass without victories, but this week has given us three. In British Columbia, the Greens and New Democratic Party are set to replace a Liberal government that has mismanaged the province for a generation. In Quebec, the election of a young ex-student leader has galvanized the Quebec Solidaire party and begun a left-ward shift in popular opinion. And in Ontario, a grassroots campaign has won a $15 minimum wage that will vastly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of families.
As Donald Trump rips up the Paris climate accords, it may seem easy to despair. But these provincial victories show us there is a reason to hope: the huge potential in uniting urgent environmental action with an unapologetically left-wing agenda.
The agreement signed by the B.C. Greens and NDP — the boldest declaration of an incoming government in recent Canadian history — gives a taste of what this might look like.
Consider just a few of their plans. A ban on big money donations and the introduction of proportional voting: this alone would transform an enclave of corporate power into a more functional democracy. Honouring the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: this would start to heal the colonial wounds that tear apart the province. And “employing every tool” to block the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline: this would be a message that economic development need not torch our climate commitments, which would reverberate across the country.
It’s not quite a left-wing agenda: after all, the NDP has pledged only the most modest tax hikes to redistribute the obscene hoarded wealth in Canada’s most unequal province. But in its fusion of environmental and economic action, it is historic. In coalition, the fiscally-conservative Greens and environmentally-timid NDP have expressed the best of their platforms, and canceled out the worst.
Public pressure forced the Greens to prop up the NDP instead of the Liberals. Now popular movements must push the new government to embrace a truly ambitious climate justice agenda — defending both whales and wages, unleashing both construction and carbon cuts.
Such a program would require investments in renewables, retrofits, public transit, sustainable forestry and affordable housing that would spark massive jobs creation and improve the conditions of workers, especially those Indigenous and racialized people getting the worst deal in the current economy.
This is the sort of green-left agenda that people will want to fiercely defend: offering change measured not just in atmospheric carbon levels in the future, but in their daily lives in the here and now.
A BC NDP-Green government, kept to and pushed beyond its promises, will have national implications: it will expose Justin Trudeau as the pipeline-boosting pretend climate champion that he is. When a province starts passing ambitious policies, there’s only so long Trudeau can pass off tweets as visionary leadership.
For those who believe such ambition is impossible, look to those who fought for a $15 minimum wage in Ontario. They too were scoffed at for being “unrealistic.” They were ignored at first by major labour unions and the Ontario NDP. But grassroots campaigners, led by women of colour, built a campaign that forced the hand of a weakened Liberal government. They showed that, now more than ever, people are right to nurture higher expectations.
As Naomi Klein has pointed out, environmentalists have failed to underline that much of this poorly-paid work – care-giving, education, sanitation, and other service sector jobs, predominantly done by women – is already low-carbon. This sector of the economy not only needs to be better-paid and protected: it needs to be massively expanded and to be recognized as a vital climate solution.
Quebec Solidaire comes closest to expressing this transformative vision. Its prospects in Quebec – a significant jump in the polls, an influx of thousands of new members — have now been boosted by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. Before he won a by-election this week by a record margin, he made his name working alongside movements forging common cause: by fighting for free university tuition and strengthened public services, as well as against the Energy East tar sands pipeline, he has helped to articulate the holistic core of a new progressive politics. With the Parti Quebecois faltering, there is every reason to believe that such politics can win a much greater share of Quebec’s electorate — and even to hold the balance of power.
A compelling and exciting new story will be the only way to drown out the furious, spurious attacks of the political and media class. Headlines blare about how Nadeau-Dubois once participated in a scholarly marxist conference—so no doubt his secret long-term agenda includes shipping you to rural reeducation camps.
Ontario’s business lobby is screeching that a higher minimum wage will kill small enterprises, destroy jobs, and shoot up prices. If we heeded these cooked-up theories, minimum wage would still be $1.30 an hour.
And in British Columbia, expect even greater threats: of capital flight, a drop in credit ratings, and back-room arm-twisting from mining and oil tycoons grown accustomed to running the province.
If the din of this backlash grows louder, we will know these progressive gains are being built upon. Now is not the time to let up — such gains will take on real life only with sustained mobilization.
Making sure people have everything to gain from boldly combatting climate change: from BC to Trump’s America, this is the way to build a formidable political movement. Need climate hope? Imagine the promise of green, left-wing victories in Canada.
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