Monday, November 11, 2019

Canada's Green Party - Which Way Forward?

In his Nov. 8 Globe and Mail column, Gary Mason puts forward the interesting argument that the Green Party of Canada should either merge with the NDP or “try to build a broader, more serious platform that is palatable to a greater cross-section of Canadians.” By taking this latter path, Mason suggests, “the Greens in Germany reinvented themselves” to become a major player on that country’s political scene.

Let’s look more closely at the German experience. The Greens in that country have indeed been riding high in the polls, and they have indeed put forward a broad, serious platform. But have they done so primarily in the way that Mason suggests—by watering down their environmentalism in order to make themselves “more attractive to centrist voters”? That's highly debatable.

The German Greens recognize—as, in Canada, even the Green Party is sometimes hesitant to do—that fighting climate change and protecting our future isn’t only a matter of reducing the production and consumption of fossil fuels. In particular, they recognize that industrial animal agriculture is damaging to human health in a wide variety of ways, and is responsible for a very significant percentage of global warming. Here are some highlights from the German Green Party’s set of agricultural policies (which together form a central part of their overall program):
We will replace intensive factory farming over the next twenty years by livestock welfare-centred husbandry. We will enforce higher animal welfare standards by law, based on the needs of animals, and on ending agonising breeding techniques and intensive animal farming. … We will restructure Europe’s tax billions to ensure that environmental protection and animal welfare become new income opportunities for farmers, because the new agriculture will depend on these farmers.
A German Green party spokesperson recently confirmed that the party supports increased taxes on meat consumption, with the proceeds being directed to improving animal welfare. In all this, the German Greens are considerably bolder than the Green Party in Canada—which is currently the only major Canadian party to engage at all seriously with the damage done by industrial agriculture. (The NDP echoes the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the Bloc in their enthusiastic defence of the status quo in the Canadian agriculture sector—including massive subsidies to animal agriculture.)

A few years ago things were different for the Greens in Germany; in 2013 their support fell dramatically when they proposed a once-a-week Veggie Day, on which cafeterias would be required to offer only vegetarian choices. The change in the party’s fortunes is partly a result of having pulled back on coercive policies of that sort. But it’s also a result of real changes in public opinion. Germans may still be opposed to any party trying to tell them they can’t eat meat on any given day. But many seem no longer to be opposed to putting a price on the damage done by industrial animal agriculture.

Slowly—ever so slowly—Canadians may be starting to move in the same direction. A 2018 survey by Sylvain Charlebois of Canadians’ eating habits reported that 7.1% of Canadians self-identify as vegetarian, with over 2% of those being vegan. (By comparison, just 3% self-identified as vegetarian in 2003.) A further 10.2% described themselves as “flexitarian” or as having a “primarily vegetarian diet”; that’s over 17% either vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian. And of those Canadians who do eat meat, fully 51% reported that they were willing to consider reducing their meat intake.

I would argue that the Canadian Greens should be gently encouraging Canadians to move in just those sorts of directions. The Greens should take the lead not only in calling for an end to government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, but in doing the same when it comes to animal agriculture. And the new Green leader (whoever he or she may be) should speak to us as individuals as well, pointing out that we’re all in this together, that our governments can’t do it all, and that, just as we should all do what we can to reduce our impact when it comes to driving, flying, and heating our homes, so too should we do what we can for our environment, our health, and our children’s future when it comes to choosing what we eat and drink, what we wear, how we live our lives. The German Greens have been doing just that—and public opinion now seems finally to have caught up with them.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments welcome!