A Sad Day for Democracy – Government interferes with establishment of Green Party in Rwanda

October 30, 2009 in 2009 Winter/Spring World

worldby Mike Feinstein, member, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

In a day marked by chaos and, possibly, sabotage, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) was prevented for the fourth time in as many attempts from holding a legally organized meeting to become an officially recognized political party.

In Rwanda, a new party must collect at least 200 notarized nomination signatures nationwide to register as an official party, including at least five from each of the 30 districts of Rwanda. On October 30th over 600 Green supporters had come to the capital city of Kigali to give their signatures, which would form part of the Greensí registration dossier with the Ministry of Local Government. Instead they were driven away by police after the meeting was disrupted by unidentified men, who forcefully penetrated the packed-to-capacity hall and threw a chair at the seated crowd — hitting a woman, while shouting repeatedly ìFPR oyeeî in French in support of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF in English). People began to flee while others tried to fight-off the assailants. According to the Rwanda News Service ìpeople could be seen falling as they ran out and away from the St. Paul hall premises, owned by the Kigali Catholic Diocese. Deafening shouting could be heard as people scattered to different directions. Party leaders could be seen running up and down – seeming to have lost control of events.î

Curiously, the six police officers present began dispersing those who were trying to restrain the attacker, rather than the attacker himself. Within ten minutes, several dozen more appeared, some wielding guns and batons. Backed by this armada, the Police Superintendent told the hundreds of delegates that the meeting would not be allowed to continue because the ìsituation could get out of hand.î ìDue to security reasons, we are asking the organizers of this meeting to postpone it,î he said, as people inside and outside the hall shouted back in protest.

With the crowd dispersed, the party could not get signatures from the hundreds waiting inside and outside the hall. To DGPR founder and interim president Frank Habineza, the disruptions that began just before the meeting commenced at 10 A.M. are no accident. ìWe have established the man who started the shouting and threw chairs is an ex-soldier in the Rwandan army and a former employee of Military Intelligence,î said Habineza. ìAnother one was from the Local Defense Forces. This was a well-planned sabotage done by security operatives. One of them even had something like a gun-pistol, and this was seen by the US and Netherlands Envoys and many others.î

ìThe police were not helpful at all. It looked like they were compromising us,î added Habineza. ìThey released the ones who caused the trouble and instead arrested our members, one of them a mother. Thankfully our members have been released but were forced to make statements to the police. They were asked why they decided to be members of our party.î Several people are injured, and woman went to intensive care with back injuries. Others complained bitterly that they had lost property including phones, handbags, wallets and money.

logo_smallThis was the second time in less than a month that a DGPR meeting was broken up before signatures could be submitted. On October 2nd, more than 900 people from all 30 of the countryís districts had traveled from across Rwanda to a similar meeting in Kigali, only to be told at that time by the Nyarugenge District Mayor that, even though the Greens had secured a location and a notary, it had to resubmit their request for permission to hold the meeting.

On October 1 the Notaire (Notary Public) had called Habineza at 5 P.M. to tell him that the Notaire would not be available the next day to verify the DGPR signatures, because the Minister of Justice had not granted him permission to do so. “When I called the Minister of Justice,î recalls Habineza, ìhe told me the Notaire does not need his permission to conduct such a function. Who can we believe? What are we supposed to do?” Twice earlier the DGPR had to postpone their delegate conferences because the Notaire claimed he is not in position to notify the party’s nomination signatures. This time they found another notary, but then were told they had to reapply anyway.

The continual delays have cost the DGPR great financial expense, something the fledgling party can ill afford. But perhaps the human cost its members have had to incur has been even greater. In a country where 84% of the people live on less than $2 a day, many supporters traveled long distances at great personal cost and sacrifice to be in Kigali, some bringing babies and others abandoning their jobs to be at the event that did not happen. ìI donít know how I will get back to Rusizi district [in western province] – a five hour journey, moreover without accomplishing what had brought me here,î said Annonciata Nyirakanyana while breast-feeding her son, after the October 2nd event was cancelled

Party Founded in August 2009

The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) was officially launched on August 14th, 2009, at a press conference at the Hotel Laico Kigali, with an audience including representatives from the Embassies of the US, Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as the BBC, SABC, Newvison-Uganda, Africa Press Agency and Umuseso Newspaper. Perhaps unknowingly foreshadowing the challenges the new party would soon face, Habineza said:

handìToday is a great day for Rwanda. Time has finally come where Rwandans can boldly stand for their democratic rights and values, where Rwandans can live without fear of being arrested or reported to the secret police and be charged for imaginary cases. Time has reached when Rwandans can ask the political leaders to answer for their bad governance and corruption cases. Today is the day, when Rwandans are standing up to say NO and publicly demand for their rights. This is the day, when all the people of Rwanda who are not in accordance to the ideology of the ruling party can speak out their mind and sleep without fear of any kind. Today we ban negative words, used to undermine humanity in Rwanda, such as, ëIGIPINGAí (not in line with the current regime), ëUMWANZI WíIGIHUGUí (enemy of the state) and many other bad words being propagated.î

At the same time, Habineza laid blame at the hand of the RPF led government. ìWe would also wish to express our serious disappointment with its failures in various sectors, such as: unfair distribution of resources (land distribution in Eastern Province) the parliament that defends only political interests and not peoplesí interests-sic! (full of women and passed a law against mothers), mal-functioning government institutions (such as corruption in local government structures and ministries), non-government organizations that are closing offices due to lack of funds and others much favored and with big budgets because they are considered pro-government, the private media (which has been denied advertisements from government institutions and thus limping) and many more other failures. It is due to these failures and despite the visible progress in terms of infrastructures development, health, education, ITC and others. The majority of Rwandans continue to suffer from extreme cases of poverty, hunger, diseases, injustices, illegal arrests, extra-judicial imprisonment, political persecutions, lack of good governance and non-respect for human rights.î

The partyís strategy was to quickly gather its nomination signatures and then hold a platform convention with the idea of challenging the 2010 elections, but only if the constitution and electoral laws were changed. DGPR Secretary General Andrew Muganwa said that there had been lack of democracy in Rwanda since monarchical time and the RPF was ìblind-folding the world with imaginary multi-party politics, when in reality it was a single party taking decisions and others follow.î

With the DGPR, Rwanda has eleven political parties, with six of them recently forming a coalition with the ruling RPF. Only two can be regarded as real opposition while the others are not yet allowed to operate. At the same time Habineza argues that the entire electoral process is faulty from registration to vote counting, leading to obvious vote rigging.

ìWhy hold expensive electoral processes when the winner is known before elections? Its only months to the presidential elections, but no one has declared their candidature, no one is allowed to campaign because the constitution was manipulated. Our party would not be involved in such an exercise that deprives our members of their democratic rights,î Habineza noted.

ìEverything in Rwanda needs to change for the sake of democracy. The institutions need to work independent of the government and political parties need to have sound voices like other democracies,î said Habineza. ìThe RPF has manipulated all the laws to its advantage. The constitution is changed without any consultations. There is no functioning civil society, no press freedom, not even freedom of association.

The DRGP thought they had just that on October 2nd, when they gathered 900 strong in Kigali to collect nomination signatures. Then despite prior permission, their meeting was abruptly cancelled by the district mayor. Immediately afterwards the DGPR issued a call for international Green support. Signed by Habineza, Toussaint Hinvi of the Green Party of Benin and Coordinator for West African Greens Network, and Board member of Burundi Green Movement Anne Marie Bikirabake, the appeal generated response from Green Parties in Europe, North America and Africa, petitioning Rwandan President Paul Kagame to remove all obstacles that are hindering the registration of the DGPR.

In its letter, President Sylvio Michel of Vertes-Fraternels of Mauritius demanded that Kagame use his powers to ìfacilitate the party in formation by instructing and or advising the relevant officialsî who are dealing with the registration process ìto do whatever they are required to doî. Edmond Edouard Gouan, president of the Parti Ecologique Ivoirien in the Ivory Coast wrote that ìthis is not the first time such tactics are being used to delay and or deny true and long lasting evolvement of democracy in Rwandaî, and Rwanda needs to ìobserve and respect all legal provisions relating to the formation and establishment of political parties.î

The Green Party of Canadaís (GPC) Leader Elizabeth May linked the DGPRís status to Kagameís professed claim to support action on climate change, stating ìRwandan society can and should be among the leading societies on the African continent in the efforts to combat climate change and environmental degradationî and that the GPC ìstands in solidarity with the aspirations of the peoples of the continent of Africa to have their nations and communities embrace and build democratic societies democratic, inclusive and peaceful society.

With the events of October 30th, the international Green response has only begun to grow. The Green Party of the United States issued a statement on November 2nd, “We protest all violence and obstruction aimed at peacefully organizing political parties throughout the world. We especially deplore actions taken to prevent our fellow Green Parties in other nations from participating in the political process. The Rwandans who’ve been blocked, intimidated, and injured by provocateurs are heroes in the struggle for democracy.

Next Steps

For the 32 year old Habineza, who is also one three African Greens on the Global Green Coordination ñ the coordinating body of the Global Greens, this international support is very timely and welcome. Since his days as a student at National University of Rwanda in Butare, the intellectual capital of the country, Habineza has been working on issues of democracy, justice and the environment in his country. While a student in 2000, he challenged Rwandan Brigadier General Richard Rutatina with controversial questioning: demanding to know why the General denied that Uganda never assisted Rwanda in the struggle during the Generalís visit to the university and threatening the General with incarceration.

An advocate for a free press in a country where most of the media is controlled overtly or covertly by the government, in 2002 Habineza worked for the now defunct Rwanda Herald newspaper whose publisher was declared ëpersona non grataí after the paper published an editorial calling for the release of former President Pasteur Bizimungu, after which the paper was shut down by local police. In 1999 Habineza started the Rwanda Wildlife Clubs (RWC) on campus to promote preservation and expansion of trees around campus. Its now called Rwanda Environmental Conservation Organisation. After graduating he served as Principal Secretary to the former Minister for Lands, Environment, Forestry, Water and Mines, Drocella Mugorewera, who is now in political exile. Ultimately it was ongoing violation of human rights, combined with environmental destruction and the lack of the basic tenets of a civil society that led Habineza and others to found the DGPR.

Neither human rights nor environmental health can be achieved in a non-democratic, un-free, dictatorial and tyrannical regime, according to Habineza, who calls for the privatization of government media organs to allow for their independence to report on these and others of his countryís ills.

In a radio interview with the BBC after the October 30th meeting was disrupted, he said that the DGPR would not be deterred. Habineza said the disruption was clearly planned and he suspected ties to the governing RPF. Accusing them of hiding behind such actions, he said ìIf they want to want to prevent us from going to the elections [in 2010] and receive 99% of the vote, let them say it.î Vowing to fight on, Habineza added ìEnough is enough. We can never go backward. We are only going forward.î

The DGPR plans to hold another delegates congress soon, but only after assurances from the government to provide security for its members. They are also calling for the international solidarity and action. Referring to the Rwandan genocide that left between one-half million and a million Rwandans dead, Habineza said ìThe International community can not commit the same mistake like it did in 1994, when genocide was happening and it just kept quiet. We need international support now.î

For more information: www.rwandagreendemocrats.org

Berlin Greens success in state elections

October 28, 2009 in 2009 Fall World

worldby Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

Just two weeks after the German Green Partyís Zukunfts-Kongress, Berlin, the capital of Germany, held elections for both city and state parliament. Painting itself as ìconstructive, creative and critical,î the Greens were the biggest winners in the election. The party went from 9.1% to 13.4% and from 14 to 24 seats, led by top-of-the-ticket candidate Franziska Eichstaedt Bohlig.

While the majority of the Greens gains came in proportional representation seats, four victories came in winner-take-all districts including three in alternative, left-leaning Friedrichshain Kreuzberg. By contrast, the Left Party/PDS was the biggest loser, falling from 22.6% to 13.4%. As a result the Greens ó who were also the only party with overall increases in the number of votes in an election with declining voter turnout ó argued they have the stronger mandate to govern in coalition with the Social Democrats, who received the highest number of votes with 30.8%.

Social Democratic Mayor Klaus Wowereit ruled out the possibility of a three-way, red-red-green coalition of the Social Democrats, the Left Party/PDS and the Greens. ìOne should avoid such a constellation if possible. It would be too complicated,î said Wowereit. But he declined to say if he would continue governing with the Left Party/PDS in a redred coalition or seek a new partnership with the Greens. ìWe have common ground with both parties,î he said.

On September 28, the Greens issued a press release stating the strong internal divisions within the Left Party/PDS make it unstable and unfit to govern, and that the Greens strong profile on environmental policy, integration, family and education, make it the coalition partner of choice for a majority of Berliners. If the Red-Green coalition in Berlin occurs, it will be the second in a major European city this year. Earlier a Social Democrat/Green government was formed in Amsterdam in March.

For more information: Green Party in Berlin www.gruene-berlin.de , Green Party in Berlin 2006 election platform

‘How goes tomorrow?’ – German Greens discuss future at Berlin congress

October 28, 2009 in 2009 Fall World

by Mike Feinstein, member, International Committee of the Green Party of the United Statesworld

The Green Party is well known for advocating sustainability and ìthinking seven generations ahead.î Thatís exactly what happened on a grand scale this September in Berlin, at the Gru?ne Zukunfts-Kongress (Green Futures Congress).

gruene_zukunftìIt was a theory Woodstock with practical results,î said German Green Party co-chair Claudia Roth at the conclusion of the weekendís proceedings. More than 2,000 Greens and non-party members filled the Berlin Energy Forum building, across the street from the old East Berlin central rail station (Ost Bahnhof), to debate the direction of German society and the Green Partyís role in it.

Today Bu?ndnis í90/Die Gru?nen (Alliance í90/the Greens) finds itself in opposition, after seven years in national coalition government (1998-2005) with the Social Democrats. They now need to think through the partyís future and unite it around a common vision, according to party chairman Reinhard Bu?tikofer.

To help facilitate that process, the Congress featured 51 workshops and nine panels, free of formal decision-making, allowing attendees to openly exchange ideas. Plenary sessions featured many speakers from trade unions, science, economy and social movements. Also featured were German Green Party decision makers and world renowned international guests such as Indiaís Vandana Shiva.

gruene_zukunft_02Six topics were central to the weekendís debate: work of the future, fair globalization, social policy and integration, children and education politics, European integration, and energy policy focusing on breaking the dependency on oil. The most highly attended workshop was on social security, drawing approximately 200 people, mirroring the importance of this issue at the national level.

The Zukunfts-Kongress was preceded by 13 regional conferences across Germany, starting in early May in North Rhine-Westphalia and Munich, in order to broaden the debate and build momentum towards Berlin.

For a party that had been criticized in past years as stuck in the ìgeneration of 1968,î one of the most impressive dynamics of the Congress was that 30 percent of participants were under 30 years old. This was a result of a five year party commitment into youth organizing, according to B¸tikofer.

Post-conference press coverage about the intellectual level of debate was positive; from media at the political center and the mainstream press, to Berlinís Tageszeitung, which at times criticizes the Greens from the left.

Policy debated in Berlin will likely find its way into resolutions at the Federal Party Congress in Cologne this December. The debate will continue, observed B¸tikofer, and the Congress ìwill show whether what we made here has a meaning and carries.î

For more information: Gr¸ne Zukunfts Kongress

Video: Interview with Bu?tikofer at Gru?ne Zukunfts-Kongress

German Greens join coalition government in Frankfurt

October 28, 2009 in 2009 Fall World

worldby Mike Feinstein, member, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

Between 1998 and 2005, German Greens were well-known for participating in a national coalition government with the Social Democratic Party, called ìRed-Greenî after each partyís official colors.

But with the decline of the Social Democrats across Germany, the opportunity for the Greens to explore coalitions with other parties has grown. There is now aìBlack-Greenî government in Frankfurt, where Greens received 15.3% in March local elections. As a result, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and Greens are now in a ruling coalition for 2006-2011 in Frankfurt.

Frankfurt am Main, as it is officially called in Germany, is the fifth-largest city in Germany and is the seat of the European Central Bank, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and is the largest financial center in continental Europe. Although Frankfurt is not the first municipality in which the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Greens have formed a coalition (they are already governing in Cologne, in other cities in North Rhine-Westphalia and in KasselÛnever); it is perhaps the most significant because of the cityís status and its connections to higher levels of government.

After the election the party assigned seven members to negotiate a coalition agreement with the CDU. They emerged with a common platform that included Greensí emphasis on improved rights for immigrants, more funding for local schools and improved public transit. In May, the 145 Greens attending a general membership meeting voted by over 80% to approve the agreement and accept the Black-Green government. However, to achieve the accord, Greens had to swallow what many felt was a bitter pill ó agreeing not to further oppose the long controversial building of the Riederwald tunnel, which connects two motorways east of the city. Tunnel opponents protested the Greens membership meeting, accompanied by drums and whistles.

jutta_ebelingAccording to incoming Frankfurt Green city councillor in charge of transportation, Lutz Sikorski, the Greens could not prevent the building of the tunnel as it was too far along to be stopped. Therefore the party agreed to stop opposing it in exchange for concessions on other points. Local party leader Jutta Ebeling, who will head the city alongside CDU Mayor Petra Roth, also seemed to accept this compromise in order to affect policy. ìA coalition with the CDU would be a venture that one must accept, especially at the local level … Otherwise one would be continuously in opposition,î she said. How Frankfurtís Black-Green experiment turns out is unknown, but could tell much about the possibilities of such cooperation on higher levels in the future.

For more information: www.gruene-frankfurt.de

Video: Interview with Jutta Ebeling, Frankfurt Green Vice-Mayor (in English)

Canadians determined to gain representation – 2006 marks best election results ever

October 28, 2009 in 2009 Fall World

worldby Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

The United States isn’t the only North American country with a winner-take-all voting system that makes it particularly difficult for Greens to win elections. Canadians face a similar system, and have also been barred from televised debates. (Sound familiar?)

Despite these hurdles, on January 23 the Green Party of Canada (GPC) had its best election result ever at the federal level, receiving 665,940 votes (4.5%). Up from 4.3% and 582,247 votes in 2004, they finished fifth nationally, behind the Conservatives (36.3%), Liberals (30.1%), New Democratic Party (17.5%) and the Bloc QuÈbÈcois (10.5%).

For the second national election in a row, the GPC also ran candidates in all 308 electoral districts (ìridingsî) in the country. This built credibility for the Greens as a national political presence and compares to previous totals of 111 (2000), 79 (1997), 79 (1993), 68 (1988) and 60 (1984). Seventy-two of the 308 in 2006 were women (23.4%).

Proportional financing

Success also adds up to financial support. Anticipating it would cross the 2% threshold necessary to be reimbursed for half of the partyís costs, the GPC borrowed and spent approximately $C700,000 (Canadian dollars) during the campaign. Now they will receive $C350,000 back from the government in September.

National Green Party Leader Jim Harris said it wasnít the risk was low. ìWe were polling at 5% when we borrowed the money and in the last election, we received 4.3%. That was the interesting time, because we had only received 0.8% in the previous election, but also because we ran in only 111 ridings.

ìWe averaged 2.2% in the ridings [districts] in which we ran, so we believed if we ran in every riding in 2004, we would break 2%. In fact, we tripled our number of candidates, doubled our average vote and our overall number of votes went up sixfold.î

By receiving more than 2% again in 2006, the GPC qualified for annual public financing at $C1.79 per vote or approximately $C1.2 million a year until the next election. After they pay off their remaining loans, the rest is free for party expenses, including the 20 permanent staff. The party now has a national budget of $C2.1 million. ì[Itís] remarkable for a party that historically operated on $C25, 000 a year,î says Harris.

In Canada, candidates (as well as parties) are also reimbursed for campaign expenses. Candidates receive 60% of their campaign expenses if they receive 10% or more of the vote. In 2004, only three Greens reached this threshold. In 2006, this went up to eight, in spite of Greens often competing in four- or five-way races for a single seat.

One Green finished as high as second ó Sean Maw in Wild Rose, Alberta, with 10.8%, placing ahead of the Liberal and NDP candidates (although all three trailed the Conservative who received 72.2%). Led by Maw, Alberta Greens averaged 6.6% per candidate, highest for a province in the country, followed by British Columbia (5.3%).

ìPeople are disenchanted with the other parties,î said Maw. ìOur major challenge was getting our message out. Being kept out of the national [televised] debates didnít help. But local media gave us fair coverage. We tried to come across as professional, to show weíre not on the fringe, that people can be comfortable with us. People now take us seriously as a credible option for next time. Greens have every reason to be optimistic.î

In the Northern territory of Nunavut, Greens received 5.9%. With climate change affecting the Artic at twice the rate of any other region, the National Post published an article ìNunavutís Green Hopeî referring to Nunavut Green candidate Feliks Kappi. Long-time North American bioregional organizer David Orton, 71, ran in Nova Scotia. His campaign helped spur the founding of the Green Party of Nova Scotia, and the party ran in all 52 districts in Nova Scotiaís provincial election in June.

Green policies

The GPC 2006 Federal Election Platform was titled ìWe Canî (ìNous Pouvonsî) and emphasized values such as: inclusive social responsibility, environmental sensitivity and innovation, democratic representation and sound fiscal management.

The Sierra Club of Canada gave the GPC platform its highest ranking (94%) in its analysis of the environment and sustainability commitments of the five major parties. The Conservatives (current government) were rated at 30%. Others were: NDP 88%, Liberal 51% and Bloc QuÈbÈcois 45% (www.sierraclub.ca/national/vote-canada/2006). ìThe Green Party really improved its platform since the 2004 election, with a greater sophistication in its policy recommendations,î said Elizabeth May, Executive Director of Sierra Club Canada. ìFor the first time, it has the strongest set of recommendations for environment and sustainability.î

Representation

ìAnother measure of success,î according to Harris, ìis inclusion in national opinion polls. In 2003 only one polling company included the Green Party. In 2006, the six most frequently cited polling companies all included the Greens. During the campaign the GPC polled as high as 7% ó and since the election one poll put the GPC at 9%.î

Still, not being included in the nationally televised leadersí debate was a big disappointment. ìHad we been included we would have we would have doubled our vote and elected Greens to the national parliament,î says Harris. After their first debates, Harris pointed out, both the Bloc Quebecois and Reform Party went from no seats to over 50. At the same time, the Green Party in British Columbiaís vote jumped from 2% in 1996 to 12.4% in 2001 ó 640% ó following the inclusion of Green Provincial Leader Adriane Carr in the leadersí debate. In 2006, more than 50,000 Canadians registered their protest at the Greensí exclusion in a petition on the GPC website ó 14 times the normal volume of what the Canadian Broadcast Company Ombudsmen receives annually, in less than 56 days. Yet the Canadian winner-take-all system itself remained a major obstacle. The 4.5% Canadian Greens received in 2006 is similar to the 4.6% Swedish Greens received in 2002 under that countyís proportional representation electoral system. That entitled them to 17 seats in the Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) and influence with the minority government of the Social Democrats. By contrast, the Canadian Greens received no seats. Had the same votes been cast under a proportional representation voting system, according to Fair Vote Canadaís President Wayne Smith, allocation would have been approximately as follows:

Conservatives ó 36.3% of the popular vote: 113 seats (not 124)

Liberals ó 30.1% of the popular vote: 93 seats (not 103)

NDP ó 17.5% of the popular vote: 59 seats (not 29)

Bloc ó 10.5% of the popular vote: 31 seats (not 51)

Greens ó 4.5% of the popular vote: 12 seats (not 0)

Not only would the Greens have won seats, said Smith, but instead of a center-right government, it may have been center-left, as the Liberals, NDP and Greens would have held a majority of 164 out of 307 seats. ìWith a different voting system, people would have also voted differently,î Smith added. ìThere would have been no need for strategic voting. We would likely have seen higher voter turnout. We would have had different candidates ó more women,and more diversity of all kinds. We would have had more real choices.î

Next moves

The GPC will hold its national convention August 24-27 in Ottawa. The choice of a new party leader, which is held every two years, will be high on the agenda, along with electing party Federal Council members and voting on party policy resolutions. Harris announced he would not seek another term as leader in April, but was ìproud of what the party had accomplished in the last three years.î So far three candidates have emerged to take his place: David Chernushenko, May (of the Sierra Club, who resigned in May as its executive director) and Jim Fannon, a former Green candidate St. Catharines/ Merritton riding in Ontario. Candidates must pay a $2,000 registration fee and are allowed to spend up to $50,000 on their campaign. The election of a new leader is a one member-one-vote process, using Single Transferable Vote (STV). Members have the option to mail in their votes if they are unable to attend the convention.

For more information: Green Party of Canada www.greenparty.ca

New Canadian party leader gets Greens noticed – Elizabeth May has doubled party enrollment by engaging Parliament Hill

October 27, 2009 in 2009 Fall World

by Mike Feinstein, Advisor to International Committee, Green Party of the United States

worldShe had only been elected for a matter of minutes, but Elizabeth May quickly showed sheíd be a force to be reckoned with as the Green Party of Canadaís (GPC) new leader.

emay_electedDrawing wild cheers from convention attendees during her acceptance speech, May called upon the Canadian government to give the United States a formal six months notice to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). ìThat threat,î said May, ìcould be used as a lever to bring needed improvements to NAFTA along lines of environment and workersí rights.î

Such bold statements and strategies are nothing new for May, a world-class environmentalist with 35 years of activism and 17 years as director of the Sierra Club Canada. She counts among her professional colleagues Kenyaís Green Nobel Prize Winner Wangari Maathai and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, among others. A grassroots activist at the same time, in 2001 she staged a 17-day hunger strike on Parliament Hill in support of people living near the Sydney Tar Ponds, and in 1996 even published an essay on

ìHow to be an Activist.î

Mayís victory gave Canadian Greens the high profile representative they hoped would finally put them into the Leadership debates and ultimately, the Canadian House of Commons. On the day after the convention alone, May did 28 interviews. Torontoís Globe and Mail ran a full-page article entitled the ìGreen Party is entering its Elizabethan age.î

Buoyed by Mayís notoriety and the excitement surrounding the partyís nationally broadcast leadership convention, early September polls had the Green Party at 10 percent, more than double the 4.5 percent the party received in the January 2006 federal election.

emay_gp21In late September, anticipating the release of the Conservative governmentís position on compliance with the Kyoto Climate Change Protocol, May unveiled the Green Party Green Plan (GP2). The plan called for a graduated carbon tax as part of a package of ecological fiscal reforms to reduce taxes on incomes while adding a graduated tax on fossil fuels.

The policy package also contained incentives for wind power and bio-fuels, regulations to improve fuel economy of cars, a shift to energy efficient residential and commercial building codes, and an emission cap and tradable permit system to help large polluting industries meet their emission reduction targets.

May said the government should be cutting subsidies to the oil and gas industries, not programs that affect aboriginals, women and youth. ìIt makes sense to end subsidies to the wealthiest companies on earth to make the worldís most profitable product ó a barrel of oil. … It makes sense to reduce taxes on things we want, like income and employment, while increasing taxes on things we donít want, like greenhouse gases and smog-causing pollution.íí

Unfortunately, the Conservative response was a bitter disappointment. Tory Environmental Minister, Rona Ambrose testified her party did not believe Kyotoís targets were achievable. In their place, she promised a new but vague ìclean air approachî, and ducked direct questions about the governmentís support for oil and gas, including whether it would continue the $1.5 billion per year it gives to tar sands.

In response, May blasted Ambrose across Canadian media. She said Ambroseís testimony ìwas an exercise in ëdouble speakí of the highest Orwellian form…. This mythical clean air act… is clearly going to be about delay and obfuscation, and would break Canadaís promise to the world and install our nation like a saboteur in the Kyoto process.î

Referring to Canadian Prime Minster, Stephen Harperís close relationship with the Bush Administration, May added, ìAny made-in-Houston scam masquerading as Canadian green policy will be strenuously opposed by the Green Party.íí

With just more than a month under her belt as party leader, May has been a constant presence on Parliament Hill. She has also approached a few MPs about switching to the Green Party, while planning on getting into the Commons herself, by considering running in the Nova Scotia electoral district of Cape Breton-Canso in the next Federal election.

For more information: Green Party of Canada www.greenparty.ca ï Elizabeth May www.elizabethmay.ca

Coming of age in Canada – 2006 Convention bigger and better than ever

October 27, 2009 in 2009 Fall World

by Jim Harris, Former Leader (2002-2006), Green Party of Canada

world

The Green Party of Canadaís (GPC) 2006 convention in Ottawa this August was a coming of age for the party. Members elected Elizabeth May as the partyís new Leader in a race that electrified the party. Party membership went from 5,300 members after the January 2006 election to 10,000 by August.

The convention was the largest in party history, with 400 party members and 50 volunteers, as well as, more than 50 journalists and observers from other Canadian political parties. Held in the heart of the nationís capital at the Ottawa Congress Centre, the convention gained substantial media attention over the week, with the equivalent of $750,000 worth of coverage. For the first time ever, the entire proceedings were also televised live on CPAC ó the Cable Public Affairs Channel (the Canadian version of C-SPAN in the U.S.). CPAC is delivered by cable to over 9.5 million homes in Canada, and has a weekly viewer ship of 1.4 million. The demand for the CPAC web cast was so heavy the website crashed. The major networks ó CBC, CTV, Global in English, and RDI in French also increased their coverage of the event. As educator Marshall McLuhan once said, ìthe medium is the message.î

By holding the convention at such a flagship location, the media could recognize the party had come of age. While there was internal criticism from some members about the high registration fee to help finance the convention, the event paid its costs while generating unprecedented media coverage. This arguably validated the investment and made it the most successful political event in the partyís history.

Speakers

Keynote speakers included Nik Nanos, the most accurate pollster in Canada; Joe Trippi, Howard Deanís campaign manager; Monica Frassoni, the co-president of the Greens in the European Parliament, Mike Feinstein, the former mayor of Santa Monica, California, representing the Global Greens; as well as speeches from the three candidates vying for the leadership of the party; and myself as the outgoing leader.

Nanos is the president of SES Research. He predicted the support of each of the five major parties within 0.1 percent of the actual outcome in Januaryís Canadian elections. He shared research he had conducted in the week prior to the convention ó showing that 30 percent of Canadian voters have decided to vote for the Green Party or are considering it. He pointed out the party could more than triple its vote to 13 percent ó some 1.9 million votes (from 665,940 votes in 2006) ó by increasing the organizational capacity on the ground. This is great news as the partyís membership has doubled in 2006 ó so hopefully the organizational capacity will be at least double in the next election.

When Trippi signed on to manage Howard Deanís 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, the long shot candidate had 432 known supporters and $100,000. Within a year, Trippi and his team had transformed Dean into the frontrunner, creating a groundswell of 640,000 people and raising more money than any Democrat in history ó $15.7 million in a quarter ó with average donations of $77. Trippi talked about using the Internet to empower and involve people in politics. He is a visionary and on a personal level has values very much in line with Greens. He gave a two-day, by-invitation-only seminar on the two days immediately preceding the convention. More than 100 key party members from all across Canada participated.

Stepping Back

In September 2005 I decided I no longer wanted to lead the party going forward, so I began to recruit quality individuals to run for the position behind the scenes. A race for leadership is something that generates excitement and builds the candidates and their teams recruit new party memberships to achieve victory. I decided to step back because I had campaigned in more than a dozen elections: two federal elections; two elections to serve as leader of the GPC, two provincial referendums on democratic reform óand I had campaigned with greens in most provincial elections over the last few years. After a while, the 120-hour weeks during a campaign and the 60+ hour weeks outside of elections begin to wear.

Rules for the Race In looking for new leadership there was Adriane Carr, the leader of the Green Party of British Columbia. She led GPBC to win almost 200,000 votes in 2001 ó some 12.4% of the vote ó and was included in the televised leaders debate. At the same time Carr began recruiting her good friend Elizabeth May. Another obvious candidate to lead the party was David Chernushenko, deputy leader of the GPC who in 2006 received the endorsement of the Ottawa Citizen for Canadian Parliament, and won more votes than any other candidate across Canada running in Ottawa Center. Chernushenko was also in the partyís Shadow Cabinet and responsible for the Climate Change portfolio. Once the race was announced a third candidate entered ó Jim Fannon, who is a radio talk show host and real estate agent in St Catherineís.

The federal council required each candidate running to post a $2,000 deposit, collect 100 signatures from the members, and could spend up to $50,000 seeking the leadership. This limit includes non-monetary donations. Both May and Chernushenko reached the spending limit in this campaign. During the campaign for leader, the party hosted two televised leaders debates, one in Montreal and one in Calgary. Both were televised live on CPAC and streamed from the web site for a couple of weeks following. This attracted a new level of media attention for the party.

Elizabeth May

May has been campaigning on environmental issues for 30 years. She has advised numerous Prime Ministers on environmental issues and served as the executive director of one of the most prominent environmental groups in Canada, the Sierra Club, for 17 years. May is an Order of Canada (the highest honor a Canadian can be awarded). She is well versed in how to work the halls of power on Parliament Hill and will be able to attract significant media attention.

May won the leadership with 65% of the vote while Chernushenko won 34% of the vote and Fannon won less than 1% of the vote. As May couldnít belong to a political party while director of an NGO, the race pitted a high profile environmentalist against a party insider.

The two-thirds of members chose May for her high profile status, believing ìstarî candidates to run for the party will bring it to the next level. As one of her first acts of leadership May appointed Chernushenko the senior deputy leader of the party ó ensuring that the party is unified going forward.

Lead up to the Announcement

Hundreds of supporters cheering and waving signs overcame the auditorium at the run up to the announcement of the leadership vote. Don Newmanís Inside Politics decided to broadcast live from the event to capture the emotion. Chanting continually interrupted my speech, and at the end of each phrase the convention roared. ìIn 2000 we had less than two percent of the Liberal Partyís vote (they had 5.2† million and we had 104,000). In 2004 we had 12 percent; in 2006 15 percent and last month a poll put us at a third of the support of the Liberals!!î ìThe Green Partyís rise in popularity is forcing the Liberals to adopt our policies. Just ten days ago (in August) Michael Ignatieff, the ìsupposedî leading contender to win the leadership of the Liberal Party announced his support for a carbon tax and a polluter pays principle ó directly taking planks out of the Green Partyís platform.î ìClimate change is the number one concern of Canadians. But climate change was not debated once ó NOT ONCE ó in the four televised leaders debates in the 2006 election. So the ONLY way Canadians are going to get the old-line parties to begin talking about climate change is by voting Green! And the only way Canadians are going to get the old-line parties to actually act is by electing Greens.î

background_gpc_financeGoing Forward

As party strategist now, I believe an election budget of $3.5 million is possible. Also May will likely be included in the next televised leaders debate for the following election. This coupled with a strategy of getting a piece of literature to every Canadian household will mean that Greens can double their vote.

For more information: Green Party of Canada www.greenparty.ca; Jim Harris can be contacted at jim@greenparty.ca

Canadian Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to run in British Columbia

October 24, 2009 in 2009 Fall World

worldby Camille Labchuk, Federal Councillor and former Press Secretary, Green Party of Canada

Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s announcement that she will run in the British Columbia (B.C.) riding (district) of SaanichóGulf Islands in the next election has sparked a renewed sense of optimism and enthusiasm among Greens in Canada, raising hopes and expectations that the party will win its first seat in the House of Commons. May had previously run for a seat in her home province of Nova Scotia ñ on the Atlantic coast, thousands of miles away from B.C. What prompted her move to the other side of Canada? The answer lies in the party’s successes and failures in the last national election, and the reshuffling of Green priorities that has ensued.

Elizabeth May arrives in Saanich-Gulf Islands

Elizabeth May arrives in Saanich-Gulf Islands

By many accounts, the 2008 federal election was momentous for the Green Party of Canada (GPC). The party achieved a number of milestones, including May’s favourably reviewed participation in the televised leaders’ debates, an unprecedented number of candidates earning more than 10 percent of the vote, and a record seven percent of the overall national vote. But disappointingly, the GPC failed to accomplish a particularly critical goal: electing its first Green Member of Parliament (MP). With this weighing heavily on the minds of the GPCís Campaign Committee and Federal Council, a substantial review of the party’s election performance resulted in one new overwhelming priority: electing the leader of the Green Party to Parliament.

The first step in electing the first Green MP was determining which of Canadaís 308 ridings is the most fertile ground for a Green breakthrough. Polls were commissioned where Green support has been strong and after an exhaustive examination of the results and the political climate in these ridings, one conclusion emerged: SaanichóGulf Islands offers the best shot of electing a Green. Why?

The riding of Saanich--Gulf Islands

The riding of Saanich--Gulf Islands

SaanichóGulf Islands is one of the small-g greenest ridings in the country, comprised of several municipalities on Vancouver Island and a number of small islands located in the Straight of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland, accessible only by ferry.† Home to many warm communities of progressive-minded citizens, the islands are known for their amazing natural beauty, wealth of artistic and musical talent, homegrown organic and artisanal food, community markets and festivals, and environmental consciousness. SaanichóGulf Islands voters in particular have given serious thought to the Green Party since 2004 when the riding was touted as the party’s best chance to elect a Green. That year, Green candidate Andrew Lewis won 17 percent of the vote ó the best Green federal result to that date, and provincially, Lewis won over 25 percent in 2001. In recognition of the Greensí popularity there, the Liberals and New Democrats (NDP) both recruited former Green Party activists as their candidates in SaanichóGulf Islands in the 2008 election ó a clear indication that voters there hold Green values near and dear, and that Green issues are campaign issues.

At the same time, B.C itself is one of the greenest provinces. If the Green Party itself can be said to have a geographical base in Canada, itís in B. C. Back in 1983, Green Party of British Columbia (GPBC) was the first Green Party in North America, in recent years the GPBC has consistently brought home 8-12 percent of the vote ó more than in any other province ñ and B.C. voters have elected many Greens to municipal governments, all of which means that British Columbians are used to considering the Green Party as a viable alternative. With many seasoned Green campaigners in the province, May will be also able to count on an influx of high-quality, experienced campaign volunteers coming into her riding.

Paradoxically, due to the regressive nature of the winner-take-all electoral system, the current MP for SaanichóGulf Islands is Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn, who has held on to his seat since first being elected in 1997 because the ridingís progressive vote is split between the Liberals, NDP and Greens. Progressives have long acknowledged this problem and have gone so far as to launch a Shun Lunn campaign, encouraging voters to rally around one of Lunnís opponents in order to vote him out. In the last election, the Liberal candidate came close, losing 43% to 39%, with Lewis also receiving 10.5% and the NDP candidate 5.7%. Clearly many voters want to rid themselves of Lunn, but have been unable to rally around a single opponent. But now when a star candidate like May enters the equation, a natural rallying point can emerge.

May’s electoral history, while brief, is nonetheless impressive and demonstrates that she naturally builds support among voters who usually vote for traditional parties. In November 2006 after a mere three months as Green leader, May pulled in 26 percent of the vote in a by-election (special election) in London North Centre in† Ontario, surprising the nation with her second place finish. And while running in her home Nova Scotia riding (seen by many as Green-hostile territory) in 2008, May brought home another second place finish against a Conservative cabinet minister incumbent, increasing the Green vote there from less than two percent to over 32 percent.

As a former GPC press secretary, I worked day and night on Mayís previous campaigns. Elizabeth May is a star candidate and a dynamic and tireless campaigner. I watched first hand as she won over voter after voter with her charm and wit, solid grasp of complex policy ideas, and inspiring vision for Canada and its communities. With her solid electoral record in ridings that are not seen as especially Green-friendly, May has a great chance at pulling off a victory in SaanichóGulf Islands ñ a riding that is incredibly Green-friendly.

There remains a great deal of uncertainty over when Canada’s next federal election will be called. The current minority parliament situation in Canada means the governing Conservatives must rely on support from opposition parties to avoid losing key confidence votes and stay in power. The Liberals and NDP have propped up the Conservative government on key votes to date, because the Liberals have desired more time to organize before an election, and the NDP is in no financial shape for an election and is down in the polls. Recently the Liberals declared their intention to vote against the government at every possible opportunity and it’s unlikely support from the NDP will continue indefinitely. Many analysts expect the Conservative government to expire by spring 2010.

Despite this uncertainty, the GPC will not be caught off-guard as was the case in 2008, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper violated his own fixed-election date law and called a snap election for partisan advantage. May’s campaign has already kicked into high gear. She has relocated to the riding, has already received an overwhelmingly positive reception. But thereís little doubt the GPC will still have to fight tooth and nail to win this seat. With this in mind, the party is focusing its resources to run the most effective campaign in GPC history, with a massive effort to identify every possible Green voter, and a clear strategy to counter the expected dirty tricks from other parties to prevent the Greens from gaining a Parliamentary foothold. With such focus, commitment, and dedication, there’s a strong chance that Elizabeth May’s campaign in SaanichóGulf Islands will send her to Ottawa and, thus, finally give a voice to the more than one million Green supporters who have been left without representation in Parliament.

For more information: www.elizabethmay.ca ï www.camillelabchuk.ca ï www.greenparty.ca

Other coverage of the Green Party of Canada in Green Pages:

New Canadian party leader gets Greens noticed – Elizabeth May has doubled party enrollment by engaging Parliament Hill
www.gp.org/greenpages-blog/?p=1860

Coming of age in Canada – 2006 Convention bigger and better than ever
www.gp.org/greenpages-blog/?p=1838

Canadians determined to gain representation – 2006 marks best election results ever
www.gp.org/greenpages-blog/?p=1884

Support local candidates

October 21, 2009 in 2009 Fall Elections

Below are but a few of the Greens running for office this year. Information about other candidates can be found here, or on the web sites for each Green Party, a list of which can be found here.

j-d-s1Javier Del Sol
Mayoral Candidate, Lake Worth, Florida
Campaign Site

a-m1Alfred Molison
City Council Candidate, Houston, Texas
Campaign Site
Additional Information

j-rJosh Ruebner
Candidate for 47th District, House of Delegates, Virginia
Campaign Site
Additional Information

a-bAnitra Brockman
Candidate for City Council,
Cincinnati, Ohio
Campaign Site
Additional Information

e-cEvergreen Chou
Candidate for City Council, New York City
Campaign Site
Additional Information

l-sLynne Serpe
Candidate for City Council, New York City
Campaign Site
Additional Information

a-yAnnie Young
Candidate for re-election to Minneapolis Park & Recreation board
Campaign Site
Additional Information

c-tChuck Turner
Candidate for re-election, District 7, Boston City Council
Campaign Site
Additional Information

jan-d-sJan de Smet
Candidate for Mayor, Windham, Connecticut
Campaign Site
Additional Information

h-lHector Lopez
Candidate of Constable, New Canaan, Connecticut
Campaign Site
Additional Information

t-sTanya Ishikawa
Candidate for re-election, City Council, Federal Heights, Colorado
Additional Information

d-sDana Silvernale
Candidate for North Humboldt Union High School District
Campaign Site
Additional Information


Staying strong against Obama peer pressure

October 20, 2009 in 2009 Fall Young Greens

by Lewis Pollis, Green Party of Ohio

lewis-pollisWe young people are victims of many stereotypes. We have short attention spans. We think we know how to handle all of lifeís problems better than our more-experienced elders. We donít understand the value of a dollar or the satisfaction received from a hard dayís work. My generation (the 20-somethings and younger) takes full advantage of its allotted margin of error. Older people use this to confirm the validity of their complaints about whippersnappers, causing the bar of expectations to drop even lower. It is a vicious cycle that continuously makes us more irresponsible and further convinces our elders we are all hooligans.

While most of this circular logic is ultimately benign (weíll grow out of it eventually, they say), another sort of stereotype has started spreading across the countryóone that is not necessarily good or bad, but will be dangerous if we feel compelled to meet the expectation. We support Barack Obama. We young Americans supported him in the primaries, we voted for him in the general election, and we sure are excited to see him playing fetch with Bo on the White House lawn.

To be fair, the assumption is reinforced by statistics. CNNís exit polling showed two-thirds of the youngest demographicóvoters aged 18-24óchose Obama in the general election. Even in the primaries, young people flocked to him; in Texas, for example, Obama won a filibuster-proof majority from the youngest group despite losing the popular vote as a whole.

I know firsthand how pervasive this assumption is. During the height of the 2008 campaign, the man I pet sit for proudly showed me his Obama bumper sticker. My economics teacher expected me to use her lessons to show my friends why his stimulus plan would help America. And my dentist, still bitter that Fred Thompson was no longer in the race, tried to get a rise out of me by maligning Obama as he dug through my mouth.

I had no problem with correcting peopleís mistakes about my political beliefs. I have even enjoyed the debates that would inevitably follow once people found out I did not support the Democratic candidate. Still, the assumption is a problem to combat, not just in my neighborhood, but across the nation.

Some of my friends truly did like Obama for more than his bandwagon appeal. Some thought that the differences between him and McCain (however small) were important; some were won over by his attitude of tolerance and respect for those different than himself; and some simply wanted to support the man who would become the first African-American president.

But many of my peers had caved in to the pressure of expectations. They were unhappy with his plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan, or to not take drastic action to combat climate change, or to implement a health care system that would not guarantee coverage for all Americans. Disliking McCain even more than Obama, they had resigned themselves to supporting the lesser of two evils. I talked to as many reluctant Obama supporters as I could find, explaining that voting Green was a better option; many of them were convinced.

This is our duty as Young Greens: we must be the missionaries of the Ten Key Values, the preachers of our platform. If there is anything Obama has taught us, it is that we have the power to change our system of government. The future of the Green Party, and any possibility we have of becoming competitive in our lifetimes, lies with us. We must tell our friends and classmates there is another choice, that Rush Limbaugh is not the only one who disagrees with the President, and that itís okay to NOT like Obama.

Lewis Pollis is a new member of the Green Pages Edit Board. He is in his senior year in high school and was editor of presidential candidate Cynthia McKinneyís ìPower to the People Campaignî Newsletter.

I talked to as many reluctant Obama supporters as I could find, explaining that voting Green was a better option; many of them were convinced.