Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On Tofino's water crisis and the opportunity for Elizabeth May

VICTORIA - Newly Green party leader Elizabeth May is already ahead of the game.
May captured the leadership this week in Ottawa, sweeping aside two other candidates.
People - or at least the media - actually paid attention. That’s a big change for the federal Greens.
May looks a smart choice on the basis of her skills and experience. She’s 52, with a law degree and a long history in the environmental movement. As executive director of the Sierra Club, she’s shown the ability to come up with ways of pitching an environmental message that win media attention and resonate with voters. She’s had some experience inside the world of government, working as an advisor to then environment minister Tom McMilan during the Mulroney years.
The Greens are still a desperate long shot to have any electoral success under Canada’s current winner-take-all system.
But that doesn’t mean the party can’t be influential, if it focuses on the right issues in a compelling way. The Harper Conservatives are weak on the environment, especially on the major problem of global warming. They’ve effectively pulled Canada out of the Kyoto accord, with no indication yet what alternate plan they have.
Stephen Harper doesn’t have much to fear from the Liberals on the issue. All he has to do is point to their record in power, which featured much talk and no action.
May is a more serious threat. It doesn’t matter if see convinces voters to back her party. Effective attacks on the Conservatives’ position will still undermine Harper’s chances.
It’s a good issue. Poll show Canadians are convinced global warming is a threat and that it’s important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Leaving aside the warming issue, spiking oil and gas prices have convinced many Canadians it’s wreckless to be so dependent on fossil fuels.
If May needs a talking point for speeches in B.C., she needs to look no farther than the water crisis in Tofino that’s shut down tourist businesses on one of the busiest weekends of the year.
The story has it all for the Greens. The threat of climate change, shown by the virtually non-existent rainfall this summer. The importance of conservation. The consequences of poor planning and lack of concern for environmental issues.
And on top of that, an good case study in the economic costs of neglect. The community will lose something like $350,000 a day in economic activity when the indefinite ban starts. That would have paid for a lot of conservation programs or an improved water supply system.
Instead of focusing on that kind of issue, May’s first public comments after winning the leadership were about the need to repeal NAFTA, pointing to the softwood lumber dispute and perceived threats to Canada’s right to have independent environmental policies.
It was an odd choice. NAFTA really isn’t on most Canadians’ list of pressing issues, in part because the agreement has mostly been beneficial in ensuring access to U.S. markets. Thirteen years after the deal was signed, the dire warnings about the Americans taking our water or gutting environmental regulations just haven’t happened. The sky has not fallen.
May has a good opportunity. The party has more than $1 million a year in public funding, based on its showing in the last election. May has good skills and wisely plans to watch the Commons from the visitors’ gallery and offer her critiques daily to the media. It’s tactic that worked reasonably well for NDP leader Jack Layton until he won a seat.
Most importantly, May takes the helm at a time when there’s a political vacuum. The Liberals are discredited; the Conservatives make many voters nervous; and the NDP is seen as irrelevant.
Even if the Greens are unlikely to win any seats, all the other parties will be edgy about losing critical votes in close ridings and shifting their policies accordingly.
It’s a fine time for a new leader and new party to make a mark.
Footnote: Despite their traditional decent showing in B.C., the Greens’ best chance for a breakthrough may be Quebec. Polls show Quebecers are the strongest on environmental issues, especially in support for Kyoto. And they have no trouble with the idea of casting a protest vote; after all, they sent 51 Bloc Quebecois MPs to Ottawa out of 75 seats. Unfortunately, May’s French is poor to mediocre.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some interesting opinions on the lack of water at Tofino. The majority of writers suggest that Tofino were quite prepared to have large developments, including a huge golf course Hopefully it would keep raining Today its trucking in bottled water.

Such developments cost lots for infrastructure and use water with great abandon. The tax income never quite equals the loss to the area. When Salt Spring Island was having a water problem the MLA of the day let the golf course get the water and the homes, and the hospital, old folks homes etc., well they could have what was left.

Hail to the developers seem to be the accepted way to operate.