Harris Discusses Green Ideas For Environment

Participation in the next televised election debate would boost support, party leader says

MONTRÉAL (CUP) — It’s time Canadians had an alternative to the traditional political parties, says Jim Harris, leader of the Green Party of Canada.

Harris said his party is ready for another election if the Liberal government is defeated in the next few months. He spoke in a lecture Jan. 26 as part of the Université de Montréal’s Environment Week. Harris discussed greener practices for Canadian industries and how their implementation is essential to the environment and the Canadian economy. “People are deeply disillusioned by the old-line parties. They are looking for solutions. They want a party that’s hope-based, that’s getting constructive solutions and creating a positive vision of the future,” said Harris.

Harris said the Green party has different priorities than the current government. “We’re not investing in education, we’re not investing enough in health care, and yet we’re subsidizing oil and gas industries $40 billion in tax credits to literally cause global climate change.” Harris said the Liberal party’s record on environmental issues, such as the Kyoto accord, has been dismal. “Well, in fact, the Liberal government is one of the major causes of global warming because we’re getting a lot of hot air out of them,” said Harris with a laugh. “I hear ad nauseam how the Liberals support the Kyoto program. That’s great, but they’ve done nothing, nothing!”

He pointed out the 1990 Kyoto accord called for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by six per cent. Harris said emission levels have risen by 20 per cent since then. The Green party would fare better on environmental issues, said Harris, by educating people about conservation, engaging in a tax shift and creating “green collar jobs.” “The biggest source of energy is actually conservation,” said Harris. He insisted without drastically changing Canadian lifestyles, energy use could be reduced by 75 to 90 per cent.

For instance, Harris said, consumers are more likely to buy incandescent lights than a low-energy fluorescent compact bulb because of the cost. He said people are unaware of the fact that fluorescent compact bulbs have 10 times the lifespan of a regular bulb and they use 25 per cent less energy. “So when you install this one, it is far cheaper in the long term,” he said.

The Green party would table larger initiatives, like a tax shift, according to him. Harris said taxes would be lowered by $3.5 billion for the lowest tax bracket and money would be reinvested for Canadians in health, education and the environment. A 10-cent at-the-pump tax would be added to gasoline prices. “We don’t call it a gas tax; we call it an asthma tax, we call it a pollution tax, we call it a smog-day tax,” said Harris.

The combination of the tax shift and the gas tax would not affect the average Canadian, driving an average distance. Harris maintained the savings incurred by the tax shift would offset the increase cost of gas. “But if you cycle to work, it’s a major benefit; if you walk to work, it’s a benefit; it you take mass transit, it’s a major benefit. But if you drive a Hummer, don’t vote for the Green party,” said Harris.

The Greens also hope Canada will change its first-past-the-post voting system to proportional representation. By doing so, the Green party would be more likely to win a seat in Parliament. “Under their model (of proportional representation), we would have nine MPs right now in Ottawa. In fact, we could be part of a coalition government,” said Harris. In the last election, 4.3 per cent of Canadians voted for the Green party. However, this was not enough to win the party a seat. Still, Harris is hopeful for the next election. He said recent polls have 7.5 per cent of the population willing to vote for the Greens. “We have incredible traction,” he said.

Harris insisted the Green party must participate in the next televised leaders’ debate. The party was shut out of the debate in the last election. Participation could double the Greens’ support, he said. “Canadians are really hungry for what we have to offer. We’re going to continue building this party and we’re changing Canadian politics forever,” Harris said.