The Left? The Right?

Elizabeth May

Last week, Maclean’s requested Elizabeth May’s Green perspective on a piece they were working on about the current left-right spectrum of Canadian politics. Elizabeth May responded that Greens do not fit cleanly on that spectrum, and recent history suggests, neither do most other parties, pointing out that left and right is the wrong perspective to have. Maclean’s stuck to their over-simplification.

We thought you deserved to read our more up-to-date and nuanced response to what has traditionally been referred to as the left and right.

What follows was sent to Maclean’s by Elizabeth May, prior to their publishing of this article:


From the point of view of Greens, the whole idea of a left-right dichotomy is something of an anachronism. In the 19th century, and even into the early 20th century, the ideological camps of Left and Right were easy to spot.

Conservatives could be clearly defined as those who concerned themselves with fiscal prudence, while social democrats prioritized the general welfare of society. But in the latter part of the 20th century, so-called liberalism blurred and conservatives ignored elements of their intellectual well-spring of "conserving" core values in society. With the destruction in Canada of the Progressive Conservative Party, conservatives moved to more radical propositions. And traditional liberals and social democrats shifted toward centrism, along the lines of Tony Blair's "Third Way" and Bill Clinton's "the days of big government are over."

Today, we find voters in modern democracies divided on lines that have less to do with "left" and "right" and more to do with "insiders" and "outsiders." In terms of the "Occupy" movement, we are divided between the one percent and the 99%.

How else can one explain pundits who found similarities in appeal between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? In policy terms, they could not have been farther apart. Still, both were perceived as appealing to a rising tide of populism. The same thing is happening globally and having the effect of putting wind in the sails of Greens. I serve as co-chair of the Global Greens Parliamentarians Association, with over 400 elected MPs around the world. We compared notes at the recent climate conference in Poland at COP24. Of the environment and climate ministers called in to run the key focused negotiations at COP24, four were Green Party Ministers, from Europe, Scandinavia and New Zealand.

In Germany, just as anti-immigration votes go up, so too does support for the most explicitly pro-migration party - the German Greens. Their huge gains in Bavaria happened just as vote share increased for the most anti-immigrant party. Greens are gaining in the Netherlands, in Australia, as well as New Zealand as the growing choice of voters sick of the old, tired parties.

Regardless of perceived placement on a tired political spectrum, Greens appeal to those who have traditionally voted conservative, those who used to vote NDP and those who used to vote Liberal. Our largest potential pool of new voters may be those who have stopped voting altogether.

While the common political discourse still categorizes parties of the "left" or the "right," Greens believe we have more in common once we reject those labels.

The weirdness of our current climate debate in Canada is that the Conservative Party has decided to focus on attacking carbon pricing - a tool developed by US conservatives as a market mechanism, preferable in their ideology to regulation. Liberals are pitching market based tools to respond to the climate emergency, but Liberals remain wholly entrenched in Harper's programme designs, and have maintained Harper's climate target. The NDP is fractured by the appalling policies of NDP Premier Notley and the challenge for a leader without a seat in the House to stake any clear policy.

If any of the old line parties absorbed the IPCC report from October 2018, we would all be working to eliminate fossil fuels as quickly as possible, while building the new clean economy that will create new jobs decentralized across Canada. Greens are fully committed to social justice, the elimination of poverty, fiscal prudence (ie "living within our means environmentally and economically") to engaged foreign policy pushing for a robust investment in global climate action, achieving the Sustainable development goals, full reconciliation with indigenous peoples, and making decisions now for the benefit of our children. We are hard to peg as left or right. We just think Green values make sense in the 21st Century.