Island Tides: Report from the world’s largest ever gathering of Greens!

Elizabeth May, M.P. for Saanich-Gulf Islands, Leader of the Green Party of Canada
April 2017

I try to avoid any partisan tinge to my columns in Island Tides, but I hope you will forgive me this one time sharing the inspiring experience of the recent Global Greens Congress in Liverpool, U.K.

Not surprisingly, Green members from around the world are keen to avoid excess flights and the GHG emitted to gather from around the world.  So the Global Green Congress only takes place every five years.  The only one I had previously attended was in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2007.  The 2012 congress, in Senegal, conflicted with my work in Parliament.  And since that time, I took on the position of co-chair of the Global Greens Parliamentarians Association, so this was an invitation I couldn’t refuse.

It was the largest gathering in our history – 2000 Greens from every continent. Over 100 countries were represented.  Our Global Greens Parliamentarians Association benefitted from having more Green national-level MPs all in the same room than we have ever had before.  With a total of just under 400 Green MPs from around the world, not all of them were able to attend.  But we had MP participation from Congo, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Spain, Chad, Colombia, Mexico, New Zealand (with charismatic co-leader, young Maori woman, Metiria Turei), Australia’s elected Green Senators, Sweden, Ireland, Finland, Latvia, Iceland, Scotland, France, Belgium, UK and Wales, the lone Green MP Yael Cohen Paran in the Knesset of Israel, and many Green Members of the European Parliament. With my European Green colleagues, we strategized about how to stop CETA. They are the only ones who can.

Our hosts, the Greens of England and Wales, are struggling with the aftermath of Brexit.  Still, the only Green MP in Westminster, co-leader Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton-Pavilion, gave a brilliant speech, finding hope “amid the rubble.”

Greens serving in coalition governments had a harder time getting away, but six Green ministers from the Swedish government participated, including Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin. The Minister of Environment from Luxembourg Green MP Carole Dieschbourg presented on our chances of reaching the Paris target of 1.5 degrees.

But missing were the co-leaders of the Greens of the Netherlands.  Fresh from their fantastic election result, in which the alt-right and racist policies of Geert Wilders’s Dutch Freedom Party were rejected and the Greens leapt from four seats to fourteen, the Left-Greens of the Netherlands were at home, negotiating whether they will have a role in a coalition government.  (Shades of “Borgen” – highly recommended Danish drama, if you haven’t seen it!)

Dutch Left-Green leader Jesse Klavers, 30 years old, with a mixed heritage of Moroccan, Indonesian and Dutch, has proclaimed that the Greens are the antidote to right wing populism. “What I would say to all my left-wing friends in Europe: don’t try to fake the populace,” he said. “Stand for your principles. Be straight. Be pro-refugee. Be pro-European. We’re gaining momentum in the polls. You can stop populism.”

The topic of electoral reform was very much on the Liverpool agenda.  We had a panel discussion on the state of play in gaining fair voting, with those who lack it, former UK Green leader Natalie Bennett, Jill Stein of the US Greens and me learning from Metiria Turei how proportional representation has changed the culture of New Zealand politics.  I was surprised how many Greens from around the world knew about Justin Trudeau’s broken promise for fair voting.  They, like so many Canadians, were angry and disappointed.

In that light, the results in the Netherlands are worth sharing widely in Canada.  Trudeau has wrongly claimed that proportional representation will allow extremist parties to gain power.  But the opposite is true. Without the pressure created by First Past the Post – to unite the Right – extremist parties like Wilders are kept out of power.  If Canada had had proportional representation, the Alliance Party and the Progressive Conservative Party could have co-existed.  The hostile take-over of the PC Party by Alliance essentially moved our whole political spectrum to the right.  And with the perversity of FPTP and false majority rule, Stephen Harper who never had the support of more than 24% of Canadians, ruled with a majority. (24% being the actual population represented by the Conservatives’ 39% popular vote in 2011 with only 60% of Canadians voting.).

In contrast, the Dutch election had a turn-out of 81.9%.  Even if Wilders’ party had come in first, it would have had no chance of gaining more than 35 seats – 40 short of being able to form government.  And none of the other parties in the Netherlands were willing to touch his brand of alt-right populism. It is a shame that, coming in fourth, Wilders won 19 seats, but with Greens in fifth place having 14 seats and mainstream and left parties carrying the majority, it is a sure thing that the new coalition will stand firm against his anti-immigration “Dutch-first” policies.

The theme of global solidarity for a compassionate agenda, respecting human rights, moving aggressively to phase out fossil fuels, end poverty, to eliminate all nuclear weapons, and to empower real grassroots democracy was a shared theme of the Global Greens.  We are a global movement.

Caroline Lucas spoke for us all “We stand against everything the Trump agenda stands for….” And former Australian Green leader, Christine Milne, “The future will be Green, or it will not be at all.”

Originally published by Island Tides newspaper. See for more breaking West Coast news, views and enterprise.