The Torn Environmentalist: How Should You Vote?

Some things are crystal clear in your mind. You love this country’s lakes and forests. You want Canada to stop stalling on climate action and gutting environmental protections and start building a truly sustainable economy. Other things are a little hazier, like how you should vote.


NDP or bust?

Planet-loving NDPers may be a tad frustrated with Tom Mulcair for his slippery stance on the Energy East pipeline and tar sands expansion. That said, tree-hugging Dippers will be pleased to know that Greenpeace, Environmental Defence and Équi-terre all say that the NDP’s GHG targets (34 per cent below 1990 levels by 2025-2030) are tougher than its competitors’, including those proposed by the Greens. 

The NDP’s promise to bring in cap and trade, invest $1.3 billion a year in transit over 20 years and redirect $240 million in fossil fuel subsidies to clean energy (not to mention entrenching enviro rights in the Charter) give it enough green heft to keep conscious voters onside. 

Now that polls say Mulcair has slid out of the lead, more NDPers are considering changing their vote to oust Harper, but diehards are gunning for a surprise comeback.   

 Greens may be the greenest, but…

Most enviros agree that Green Party leader Elizabeth May is pretty awesome and so is much of her party’s platform on the environment. The Greens are the only ones who unequivocally oppose Arctic drilling and oil sands expansion. 

May threw off fossil fuel haters by harping on the importance of refining oil domestically, but all that aside, should you pledge allegiance to the planet by voting Green because, well, they’re the greenest? 

Most eco observers I polled said these guys are mostly a wasted vote unless you live in Thunder Bay or BC’s Saanich-Gulf Islands or Victoria. Some say devout greens outside these zones should consider vote swapping (see below). Others argue greens should vote NDP for their best chance of bringing in the proportional representation system that would help give the Greens the seats they deserve. 

Justin Trudeau, maybe?  

Some say there’s not much difference between the Liberal plan for the environment and the NDP’s. Like the Dippers, the Libs want to shift fossil-fuel-subsidy cash to renewables, both promise billions for green infrastructure ($20 bill over 10 years), push green bonds, vow to unmuzzle scientists and put a price on carbon. 

The big problem is that Trudeau’s really vague about that last one. No firm greenhouse-gas targets have been announced. It’s more of a “trust us, we’ll tell you more later” approach, says Greenpeace climate campaigner Keith Stewart. 

Trudeau’s also keener on oil sands development and getting oil to markets as long as pipelines have “social licence.” Just know what you’re voting for if you’re leaning this way.

 Anyone but Harper

Six in 10 Canadians say they’re voting to defeat Stephen Harper, and just as many are telling pollsters they’d be willing to change their vote to get Harper out. Leadnow’s strategic voting site, votetogether.ca, has had over half a million visitors so far. 

The Mulcair-or-bust camp will tell torn Dippers that they’re blowing the best chance progressives have had yet at running the country. However, U of T environmental studies prof Doug Macdonald (an NDP supporter) argues that given how far out to lunch the Conservatives have been on climate policy, “environmentalists should not be torn at all. They should vote strategically to defeat the incumbent government.” 

Still, strategic voting tools haven’t always guessed right, and changing your vote based on blanket national polls is dodgy when the scene can be vastly different in your riding. 

Leadnow’s Amara Possian says they minimize that problem by beefing up local polling in key swing ridings like Eglinton-Lawrence and Etobicoke-Lakeshore, but they’re still short on current polling in other Conservative swing ridings, leaving potential swing voters swinging in the wind.  

Should I swap my vote?

Former Green Party leader Jim Harris, who heads up voteswapping.ca, suggests trading your vote to help defeat Harper. The group did some number crunching and say Harper won his last majority with just 6,201 votes (out of 14.8 million cast) – the difference between Conservative winners and second-place finishers in the 14 closest races. 

Says Harris, “If 700 NDP supporters in Don Valley West [where the NDP had no chance at winning] had swapped their votes with 700 Liberal supporters in Bramalea-Gore-Malton, both groups would have gotten what they wanted: one more MP for their party and two fewer Conservative MPs.” 

A good point, but are you in a swappable riding (like York Centre)and can you find a match? Punch in your postal code to find out. Can you trust your co-swapper? No way to know. But assuming you were planning to vote for your second-choice party anyway, nothing really changes. 

 Forget party politics

So, what if there’s a fabulous environmentally conscious MP in your riding and you’re not so concerned about which party that person represents. Greenpac’s non-partisan panel of experts analyzed federal candidates and has come out with a list called the Green 18 from all four political parties. No strategic voting here, just a vote for eco champs, including two Conservative MPs. But isn’t a vote for them a vote in a heavily whipped party system a vote for Stephen Harper’s status quo? Greenpac is more about the long game around changing the face of politics. Founder Aaron Freeman says they’re trying to “embed environmental leadership across the political spectrum.”

 I’m a planet-loving Conservative – help!

Once upon a time, the conservative Party actually kicked ass on the green front. Former PM Brian Mulroney’s government brought in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (the latter heavily eroded by today’s Conservatives) and made Canada the first industrialized country to ratify the UN’s biodiversity and climate change conventions. 

Now all sorts of hardcore conservatives, including Reform Party founder Preston Manning, are trying to revive that green streak. If you’re a green Con, there’s no more crucial election than this one to join them and, fingers crossed, the rest of Canada in voting for the climate.     3

adriav@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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