No Wonder The Old Guard Is Mad

I’ve rarely (well, actually, never) used this blog to post someone else’s column in its entirety or without much comment, but Susan Riley in The Ottawa Citizen summed up this whole “Red Green Show” business so well that it should be required reading for anyone concerned. (For my thoughts on the matter, see last Friday’s post.) Please take a moment to read Susan’s take below (presented without block-quotes for easier reading).

Hilarious Update (April 20, 2007): The NDP just quoted from this column in their e-newsletter as if it was meant as an endorsement.

Grit-Green pact rattles
Susan Riley, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, April 16, 2007

‘Flaky” was the verdict of one nameless senior Liberal, commenting on the agreement between Elizabeth May and Stephane Dion not to run candidates against one another in their own ridings.

“Bizarre,” “preposterous”, said some pundits. Others smelled a plot: the real end game here is not saving the planet, as May and Dion insist, but squeezing out the New Democrats to the electoral advantage of the Greens and Liberals.

Jack Layton, with trademark piety, expressed disappointment that May has climbed into “the muck” with the Liberals. “If she wants to be a Liberal, why doesn’t she just run for the Liberals?” sniffed his former aide, Jamey Heath. For the Conservatives, the deal is further evidence — along with the Ottawa Senators’ second-game loss and this month’s miserable weather, presumably — that Dion is a “weak leader.”

Pay them no mind, Ms. May. These are the delusional mutterings of a dying cult. These are the custodians of politics as it always has been: stupidly partisan, pathologically afraid of innovation, mean-spirited and self-interested. Faced with a bold gesture — particularly a gesture motivated by idealism — they are, naturally, frightened and confused. But only for a moment. Too soon they fall back into the cynicism that sustains their tired, increasingly-exclusive little club.

It would never occur to their world-weary critics that May and Dion might be telling the simple truth: They both believe climate change is not just one issue among many, but the most serious facing humanity. In the face of so dire a threat, the old rivalries, even political labels, become secondary.

In that context, it makes perfect sense for Dion to want May — one of Canada’s most experienced and articulate environmentalists — in the Commons, particularly if the alternative is the likable, but definitely not carbon-neutral, Peter MacKay. It is also reasonable that May would prefer Dion’s green vision — the new, tougher one he unveiled some weeks ago — to Stephen Harper’s. Full details of the Tory plan won’t be disclosed for a few days, but nothing suggests it will be close to adequate.

Yes, Paul Martin did little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when he had the chance (now there was a weak leader), and Dion was his environment minister. But Dion is the boss now, voters have tuned in, and, despite his shortcomings as a performer, Dion has endorsed a plan that even Layton concedes is serious.

In fact, New Democrats, Liberals and the Bloc teamed up to pass a revamped clean air bill that incorporates Dion’s new plan, bolstered by measures promoted by the NDP and Bloc. It was a rare example of the co-operation a minority Parliament is supposed to foster and much credit belongs to the NDP’s inspired environment critic, MP Nathan Cullen.

So why didn’t May pursue an alliance with Layton, whose green credentials go back farther than Dion’s, whose environmental policy has long been more progressive?

Well, she tried. She says she phoned Layton a number of times, but got no response. So she called an old friend, Stephen Lewis, to see if he would intervene. Layton has characterized this as “backroom wheeling and dealing,” and accuses May of betraying her own high standards. As for his private meetings with Harper last fall (a relationship that has since cooled?) that was a noble attempt at co-operating in the public interest, of course — a distinction that may escape outsiders.

“What the hell is wrong with Jack Layton that he can’t answer a phone call?” May retorts, when asked. “I don’t understand this. He talks to Harper all the time. Surely, the shared values are much closer between the NDP and Greens.”

Layton, however, has a history, a venerable institution and a fragile footing in the polls to defend — not just a climate change plan. The Greens are competitors as much as allies. As for May, if her goal is electing a green government (and it is), cold calculation comes into play: Dion is more likely to become prime minister than Layton.

Not that this is very likely, say the experts. Dion is said to be the biggest loser this week — for admitting he needs May to bolster his green reputation, for forfeiting his party’s claim to national status. This is nonsense — except for May and Dion’s ridings, both parties will run candidates across the country — but it is widely- accepted nonsense.

May will have trouble beating MacKay, no matter what. But she really is doing politics differently, not just claiming to. She is fearless and Dion isn’t weak. No wonder the old guard is closing ranks against them.

One thought on “No Wonder The Old Guard Is Mad

  1. Required reading indeed!

    Kudos to Ms. Riley for the reference to fear of idealism. Canadians seem to adore moderation in our federal politics. (Case in point: the Reform/Alliance/CRAP/Conservative party couldn’t form a government until they cooled the rhetoric and gagged their most outspoken candidates). When something happens to challenge the even-keel steady-as-she-goes easy-does-it politics, something curious happens to political operators within that old framework, and they get very concerned. If the change is for the worse, many Canadians groan, sigh, and rant. Easy enough to accomplish. However, if the change is for the better, we find our selves at risk of leading the pack, sticking our neck out, and having to take a stand. Scary stuff, that.

    We are bombarded today with demands that we change things for the better, and quickly, to protect our climate, to build a global and positive peace, and in so many other areas of crisis. If there was ever a time to brave idealism in Canada, that time is now.

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