“Those who don’t remember the past are bound to repeat it,” or so the old saying goes. It’s one that is often repeated by history teachers like me. (I’m not in the classroom these days but I think fondly of my time teaching grade 10 history at Bayridge Secondary and the late QECVI.) It’s something that should be top of mind as we go to the polls this spring.
That’s right, in a little less than 150 days ridings across Ontario are scheduled to elect Members of Provincial Parliament, MPPs for short. The party with the most MPPs will have a shot at government. So what can history teach us as we cast our ballots?
The first lesson is obvious: the traditional three status quo parties, who have all had a majority government in the last generation, have failed us.
Need proof? Look at indicators across economic, social, environmental, and democratic policy. What do you see? Regardless of the party in power — the NDP (1990-1995), the Conservatives (1995-2003), and the Liberals (2003-present) — Ontario has seen:
– hundreds of billions of dollars added to our debt (looming at $312,000,000,000 in 2017)
– labour and/or popular unrest (think: Rae Days, Harris’ Cuts, McGuinty/Wynne scandals)
– rapid development of prime farmland and massive destruction of biodiversity (e.g. species at risk)
– decreased voter turnout (see below for the stats)
It gives me a headache! Something has to change!
The second history lesson is less obvious. Yet it is known to those who observe the legislature closely: the Green Party of Ontario has contributed to revolutionary legislation even when we were shut out of the leaders’ debates during elections and shut out of Queen’s Park after the election due the unfair first-past-the-post system. (Check back for future blogs on the need for electoral reform).
For example, in 2009, the government borrowed almost directly from the Greens’ policy book to develop The Green Energy Act. Hey, they even named it after us – just kidding! This allowed renewable and sustainable energy sources to take hold in the province. Unfortunately, The act seemed to prioritize multi-national companies over communities. It kept prices artificially high in the long term and neglected farmers and Indigenous peoples in the short term. We wouldn’t have done it that way. But at least the government started to make good on the potential of a low-carbon, trillion-dollar, clean-energy economy. An economy that can help our residents, small businesses and, of course, our planet.
For another example, in 2017, the government consulted GPO leader Mike Schreiner — longer than any other witness before committee — on how to ban big money from politics. In other words, the Greens’ policy book was key in getting union and corporate donations out of the coffers of the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals. That’s right, the Greens have never accepted money from special interest groups, labour organizations or companies. We have only — and always — raised money through our grassroots organizing that puts people over profit. Every. Single. Time. Sound familiar? You may have heard that the B.C. Greens were able to do the same thing in that province where they hold they hold the balance of power (a.k.a. balance of responsibility). Greens practice what they preach.
The third lesson brings us to voter turnout in general elections. It has been sad to see participation slide from 64 per cent in 1990 when the NDP were first elected; to the Conservatives, 63 per cent in 1995; then the Liberals, 54 per cent in 2003. Why does this happen? Maybe the negative politics and broken promises of these parties (think: auto-insurance, expanding casino gambling and raising taxes) turn people off? Whatever the reasons, the fact that only approximately half of eligible electors in the province bothered voting after a string of these orange, red, and blue governments leaves something to be desired.
This is in contrast to voter turnout when Greens get elected (in general elections). Look at the election of federal Green, Elizabeth May, for instance. Her first term as MP saw more than 70 per cent of her BC riding vote. Her second term? Nearly 80 per cent! The same can be said for the election of New Brunswick Green, David Coon. When he was voted in, more than 70 per cent of the people who could vote did (up almost five per cent from the previous election). Again, it’s tough to tell why this happens, but I have a hunch that Greens empower people, encouraging them to vote for something they believe in, to vote with their heads and hearts, to vote for a future they want for their kids and grandkids. Greens try to be positive and inspire confidence in our democracy and it seems the results reflect this.
So whether you go to the ballot box at the early polls or on election day, remember these lessons:
1) The three regular, old parties — the NDP, Conservatives, and Liberals — have all had majorities and all have driven us into deep debt, economically, socially, environmentally, and democratically.
2) The Green Party has been a force for major, positive change in important provincial legislation, getting big money out of Ontario and B.C. politics, for example.
3) Greens have been elected across the country, increasing voter participation in general elections from BC to New Brunswick (it happened in PEI too).
Lessons which bring me back to the opening quotation. I remember the past. I know what parts of it I don’t want to repeat. And I hope you do too.