Conservation Voters of BC: Counseling dishonest politics

Yesterday I received an email from the Conservation Voters of BC urging me to join the Liberal Party of BC so I could vote for their next leader.

I thought it might be a joke but reading the whole piece it was clear this group was serious. It is one of the most ill-considered and dishonest appeals I have ever received from normally progressive organizations. It represents incredibly bad judgement on the part of five respected organizations – three of which I have actually given money to in the past year. The groups that make up the Conservation Votes are: Dogwood Initiative, Ecojustice, Georgia Strait Alliance, West Coast Environmental Law, and Wildsight.

If they don’t rescind this appalling appeal they won’t be getting a donation from me this year or any year in the future.

Here is part of what the organizations said in the email appeal (addressed to me personally with my contact information gleaned from one of organization’s list of supporters).

“If you received this message, you live in a provincial riding with very few Liberal Party members, probably less than 400.

…If you want a Premier who is going to feel compelled to respond to environmental issues, now is the time to get involved.

But you have to act quickly. The cut-off date for people to join the BC Liberal Party and be eligible to vote for leader – who will immediately be the new Premier – is February 4th, this Friday.

…Keep in mind that taking action on this unprecedented opportunity now does not determine the vote you will cast in the next provincial election, which isn’t scheduled to happen until 2013. Party memberships can be cancelled at any time.”

The email points out that it will be polling the candidates for all the parties regarding their environmental stance and publishing the results.

The problem – and I can’t believe the sophisticated leaders of these organizations can have missed this – is that this is a profoundly dishonest action. It is essentially political fraud: joining a party whose values, policies and record are all profoundly reactionary, mean-spirited and representing in total the worst government the province has ever had. How could a progressive individual possibly consider putting their name to an application form of a party they totally disagree with? And give them money to boot.

That progressive groups would do this is truly disgusting as it sets a precedent for any group to do the same thing. Right wing organizations have much greater resources and therefore much greater ability to organize such actions. Will the legion of well-funded groups that support the corporate Liberal Party (chambers of commerce, industry associations, the Fraser Institute, the Taxpayers’ Federation, anti-abortion groups, etc. now adopt this bright idea and get their members to join the NDP to vote for the most right-wing (or the weakest) candidate to make it easier for the Liberals to win?

Or maybe the corporations facing effective campaigns by these five groups will organize people join one of them and elect a board that is completely hostile to its objectives – and then shut it down completely, lay off its staff and donate the money remaining to the Petroleum Institute.

Organizations trying to make the world a better place have a duty not only to their own causes but also to adhering to the highest possible ethical standards.

What on earth were these groups thinking?

Their scheme is an insult to all the other organizations and movements in this province who are trying to defeat the Liberal government for its terrible policies on a huge swath of policy areas: child poverty, the private power rip-off, the minimum wage, cuts to culture, the huge tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthy. It is a very long list.

But the Conservation Voters, playing at non-partisanship, reduce it all to environmental issues as if all the others don’t matter or should be sacrificed on the alter of their issues. I don’t know of any other organization or group of organizations that would be so contemptuous of environmental issues.

For as long as I can remember the environmental movement has demonstrated a weak understanding of social justice issues. Getting these groups to join in broad coalitions has always been difficult because of this. The reverse has not been true: broad coalitions – for example against NAFTA and other such corporate rights treaties – have always sought out environmental groups because they recognized that a healthy environment is a key component of social justice broadly defined.

What is the end point of this unfortunate exercise if a Liberal leadership candidate comes up with a better statement on the environment than any of the NDP candidates? And what he if he or she wins the leadership? Should so-called Conservation Voters then vote Liberal – and ignore all the other carnage this terrible Liberal government has done and would continue to do?

If this is the best the Conservation Voters of BC can do perhaps the whole idea was just bad in the first place. They should at the very least rescind this offensive appeal and go back to the drawing board for an ethical strategy of putting environmental issues front and centre in the next election – something I completely support.

If they can’t do that they should fold their tent and put their energy into their individual organizations which is what gave them credibility in the first place. This action severely undermines that credibility and is an insult to the thousands of people who give these organizations money every year.

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