Dion and May take a bold, necessary step

For those of you who’ve seen the recent film Children of Men, you’ve been granted an alarming glimpse into the world of the near future.

For those of you who’ve seen the recent film Children of Men, you’ve been granted an alarming glimpse into the world of the near future.

In this dystopian vision, the England of 2027 is a grim, decaying place where climate change has resulted in a massive influx of refugees into Britain, housed Guantanamo-style in vast wire-mesh cages.

In an interview, the set designer has described having to invent imaginary versions of British newspapers 20 years from now. Not surprisingly, climate change, economic collapse, and insecurity dominate the headlines.

This bleak (if fictional) vision has recently been echoed by Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett.

Chairing the first-ever discussion of global warming at the United Nations Security Council, she warned that migration would occur on an “unprecedented scale because of flooding, disease and famine.”

She is also quoted as saying that drought and crop failure could cause increased competition for food, water and energy, while the economic destruction could be comparable to the Second World War or the Great Depression.

It’s against this background that April’s big political story in Canada — the decision by Stéphane Dion and Elizabeth May not to run competing candidates in the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova — is so interesting.

Many commentators — rather predictably — have jumped all over them, calling the decision politically opportunistic and anti-democratic, among other things.

May and Dion themselves have argued that the decision is a principled one, based on their joint belief that climate change is the most critical challenge of our time, and that the urgency of the situation calls for an unorthodox approach.

Dion is quoted as saying that he and May have decided to put “progress ahead of partisanship” so that — if May wins — she’ll have a seat in the House as Green Party leader.

It’s better, they argue, that a candidate genuinely committed to grappling with climate change be elected, rather than splitting the vote.

In fact, such vote-splitting is at the heart of Conservative strategy, as the Globe and Mail noted last weekend, quoting a senior strategist from the party who says Harper will be very happy to benefit from a split vote on the left.

Such vote-splitting would allow Conservative MP Peter Mackay to win re-election in Central Nova, which is why Dion has agreed not to run a Liberal candidate in that riding.

In fact, thanks to Canada’s first-past-the-post system, vote-splitting will be a reality in a number of ridings, including Saanich-Gulf Islands, arguably the greenest riding in the country.

Because the NDP, the Liberals and the Greens are all running candidates there, Conservative MP Gary Lunn is likely to be re-elected.

Yet in the last federal election, Lunn won with just 37.2 per cent of the vote, compared to a total of 62.5 per cent for the three other parties.

How democratic is that?

Call me idealistic, but maybe it’s possible to view the Dion-May agreement on the Central Nova riding as an alternative strategy to politics-as-usual.

Their much-maligned accord can be interpreted as sending a powerful signal that, at a time when the most recent scientific evidence is reinforcing or exceeding our worst fears about climate change, unconventional or unorthodox political action may be necessary.   

 “There is no time to waste,” May is reported as saying. “Because of our electoral system, I do not have a choice. I have to collaborate.”

At times of national crisis, the normal rules of politics are suspended — witness the all-party unity government in Britain during the Second World War.

So perhaps, in fact, the Dion-May approach is extraordinarily prescient, though it’s not yet a full-fledged merger or alliance.

Perhaps a Liberal leader who has made the environment the centre of his leadership platform, and the leader of another party which owes its existence to the environmental movement, really are acting out of principle.

It’s certainly possible to argue that voluntary co-operation now may prevent, or alleviate, crisis-driven intervention further down the road.

Twenty or 30 years from now, if Beckett is right about the scope of future economic destruction, the magnitude of the threat may force both Canada and Britain (and perhaps other nations too) into all-party unity governments.

With its global reputation for progressive public policies, Canada should be taking the international lead on this file. 

It’s certainly high time, given the foot-dragging on this issue by Stephen Harper, that someone in a position of leadership did.

And Canadians support such an initiative, showing that, once again, they’re ahead of their leaders. Except — maybe — Dion and May.   

If the Dion-May approach fails, through the cynicism of both voters and the media, we may look back and lament our shortsightedness.

And our children may castigate us for squandering an opportunity to do something while we still had time.

 Patricia Robertson is a Whitehorse writer. Her new short story collection, The Goldfish Dancer, will be released in early May.