Norman Davies’s acclaimed masterpiece Europe: A History (1996) contains a very intriguing account of the fall in 212 BCE of the Greco-Sicilian city of Syracuse to the Romans. The fall of the city, which ended a lengthy siege, came when a certain Moeriscus treacherously opened the gates to the Romans in the dead of night. It was the decisive moment in an epic struggle, the second Punic War. The fall of Syracuse tipped the balance in a war that decided who would dominate the Mediterranean world: a fusion of Greek and Phoenician civilizations, or the upstart power of Rome.

Long before the anonymous poet wrote that ”œa king- dom was lost / and all for the want of a nail,” the mystery of individual agency has lain at the heart of the study of his- tory. Those rare, decisive moments such as Moeriscus’s betrayal bring us face to face with the central issues of his- torical inquiry and consciousness. What if Moeriscus hadn’t opened the gate? Was the eclipse of the Greeks just a fluke? Would Carthage have triumphed over Rome and our world have been profoundly different? Or was the Roman rise inevitable? Was Carthage’s defeat and the subjugation of the Hellenic world historically foreordained? What of human events belongs to individual agency? What to larger histor- ical forces? Do any such exist?

Davies meditates upon the possibilities that lay open at the moment of Moeriscus’s betrayal. ”œHistorians who look back at Rome’s triumphant expansion are locked into the knowledge of subsequent developments…The difficulty is to see what other perspectives were in the offing…If Moeriscus had not opened the gate; if Syracuse had resisted the Romans as it once resisted the Athenians; if Hannibal had destroyed Rome as Rome would soon destroy Carthage; if, as a result, the Greek world had eventually fused with Semitic Carthage, then history would have been rather different.” But we are brought swiftly back to the central fact. ”œThe point is: Moeriscus did open the gate.”

Last December’s leadership convention of the Liberal Stéphane Dion’s fourth-ballot victory, a gate opened in Canada’s political his- tory, and, quite possibly, in the history of the global environmental move- ment. Viewed a certain way, the open- ing of this gate seems as inevitable as the rise of Rome. It makes sense that a Canadian federal Liberal leadership convention in 2006 would elect the most overtly environmentalist candi- date. It makes sense that in North America, where partisanship has large- ly gridlocked the emergence of envi- ronmental issues, blocking their entry into the partisan political mainstream, one of the first significant breaks in the pattern would come at a national leadership convention of Canada’s Liberals in opposition.

But Moeriscus need not have opened the gate. Nothing resembling inevitability was afoot on the floor on the Palais des Congré€s that weekend. No one who sat glued to his television watching the unfolding drama, or flicking on her car radio between hockey practice and grocery pickup to stay abreast of the action throughout the brief daylight of a December Saturday, can ever be convinced that the outcome was preordained. Nor should they be. It wasn’t.

This article examines this most exciting of leadership conventions pri- marily from the perspective of the gate’s opening. It will seek to locate the convention outcome in the gathering global dynamic of partisan engage- ment with the environmental issue set, in particular the increasingly urgent climate crisis. As well, this article will explore the significance of Dion’s victo- ry to national politics in Canada. Finally, the article will explore some scenarios for the future of partisan engagement with environmental ques- tions, especially the climate crisis, both in Canada and abroad. All the while, of course, I’ll seek to pay due respect to the fact that nothing is inevitable, that human agency matters and that some gates are never opened because no one takes it upon themselves to do so at the critical moment.

The first point of departure is prob- ably the most vexing: determining the degree to which the environmental issue powered Dion’s victory.

One possible narrative is that green power somehow swept the Liberal con- vention. It did not. Dion did not monopolize the green issue. Nor did he overwhelm other candidacies with a stampede built around the policy propo- sition. If anything, it may seem more credible to argue that the key to the Liberal leadership race was algebraic, not environmental ”” that once two evenly matched candidacies with low negatives among delegates effected a junction of forces, it was virtually impossible for either of the polarized candidacies with high negatives to prevail.

But if the idea of a green sweep does not hold, neither does dismissing the importance of green politicking to Dion’s win. The environmental issue was at the heart of Dion’s campaign and its success. Dion campaigned on the dossier. The three-pillar thesis and his experience as environment minis- ter were his campaign calling card, much more even than the Clarity Act. His overwhelmingly youthful delegate force revelled in the cam- paign’s environmental thrust. His delegation bond- ed closely with Kennedy’s similarly aged cohort, on the basis of shared values concerning party renewal to be sure, but on environ- mental questions as well.

A syllogism suggests itself. Environmental con- cern is a generational issue par excellence. Dion’s and Kennedy’s youthful dele- gates intimately shared the concern. Environment was therefore a kind of green generational wave, churning the Dion and Kennedy camps together into a winning combi- nation.

Other factors were at play. The most important came the Monday before the convention, when a key by- election in London North Centre delivered a significant result: a strong second-place finish for the Green Party. This was exactly the sort of sig- nal to catch Liberals’ attention. Dion deliberately capitalized on the by-elec- tion by arranging for the successful Liberal candidate in London, Glen Pearson, to introduce the Dion demonstration on Friday night.

All of these factors went into the mix that produced the electrify- ing sight on Saturday morning of the entire Dion delegation decked out in bright acid green ”” an unprecedented colour for a federal Liberal campaign. The symbolism was unmistakable and the message crystal clear: a vote for Dion was a vote for a thoroughgoing, environmentally oriented Liberal re- branding. And a rebranding was exact- ly what the party was looking for to regain the grace from which it had fall- en over 13 long years of rule. The genius of the Dion campaign was to anchor the rebranding proposition in a single, popular policy proposition on which their candidate had impeccable credentials and could speak with com- pelling sincerity.

To fully grasp what happened in Montreal, it is perhaps less useful to look at the degree to which the envi- ronment delivered for Dion inside the Liberal Party, and more valuable to consider what Dion delivers to the environmental issue.

Stéphane Dion is the first acknowl- edged global environmental leader to lead a mainstream national party, hav- ing earned this credential through his forceful and highly successful chair- manship of the 2005 Kyoto Protocol COP-11 conference in Montreal and the year’s worth of diplomacy leading up to it. He is, perhaps surprisingly, the first former environment minister elect- ed to major national party leadership.

Dion goes beyond these ”œfirsts,” however. Bluntly put, he is the first politician to ride the environmental issue to a point so near Disraeli’s ”œtop of the greasy pole.” Politicians respond to electoral incentives, and Dion has shown that the rewards of responding to voters’ environmental concerns vastly exceed those held by the con- ventional wisdom to date. Dion has used the issue to take over a main- stream, big-tent party in the free-for-all of a delegated national convention. If leadership politics is, as some suggest the ultimate political currency of a party, Dion has shown that green can be pure gold.

From the global perspective, Dion’s ascension to the Liberal leadership is a landmark in what we might term the electoralization of the environ- mental issue set. We may define elec- toralization as the process by which the political system’s engagement with environmental concerns is shifting. The first stage of engagement is a model where the system’s major bro- kerage institutions ”” parties and gov- ernments ”” seek to accommodate on a de minimis basis the demands of citi- zens organized into stakeholder pres- sure groups (in this case the environmental non-governmental organizations, ENGOs). The second stage, which is commencing worldwide and to which Dion’s win opens the gate, is one where the big political actors deal more directly with the broad mass of citizens concerned about the issue, in a partisan competition to meet voter demands. The victor assumes power and confers on government a democratic mandate for action that leads to sig- nificant public policy change. The final stage ”” still some years away ”” is characterized by an ongoing and sig- nificant commitment to engaging the issue that is embedded deep within the electorates’ priorities, the parties’ ethoses and policy propositions, and the institutional power structures of government.

In this magazine and other foru- ums, I have argued that the time is ripe in Canada for transition from stage one to stage two, and that the Liberal Party could and should obtain an enduring electoral advantage by being the first mover. Since that intervention, events have moved more swiftly than antici- pated, to the point where not only has Dion’s win opened the gate to the sec- ond stage of electoralization, but now Conservatives are seriously considering trying to enter this stage as well. To understand exactly where we are in this dynamic, it is helpful to examine briefly the pattern of environmental engagement by political systems in Europe and North America.

Begin with Europe, where green politics was in many ways pio- neered. The political progress of the Green movement in Europe to date, while certainly more impressive than the marginal impact it has had in the North American political space, has not been great. A brief look at the balance sheet tells the tale. Western Europe’s Greens can point to a clutch of policy successes that certainly represent important progress in lay- ing the foundations of envi- ronmental sustainability. The leadership of Western European governments, influenced by domestic green parties and voting blocs, was vital to the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Germany’s 1999 ecotax, a set of stiff tax disincentives to the burning of hydrocarbons, has been adopted in one form or another by Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, and the majority of EU member states have embraced the principle of gearing taxation to envi- ronmental considerations. In January 2005, the European Union introduced the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, the world’s largest multi-country, multi-sec- tor system for trading emission credits.

These perhaps modest, but impor- tant, policy successes mirror a fairly modest degree of political success. At one level, the Greens have certain- ly penetrated Western European governance. From 1979 to 2002, Green parties played a role in national government in no fewer than 15 European countries. As of 2002, col- lectively, 44 Green government minis- ters (at cabinet level) have been in government for 59 years. However, only one Western European Green party has polled more than 10 percent of the vote in a national election (Germany’s Greens last year); generally the parties hover in the 5-8 percent zone, narrowly qualifying for parliamentary seats. The highest office to which a Green politician has risen has been the foreign minister of Germany, a post held from 1998 to 2005 by Green leader Joschka Fischer in the ”œRed-Green” coalition government of Social Democrat leader Gerhard Schroeder.

The pattern is one of limited politi- cal penetration and limited policy success in the developed world’s politi- cal environment that is most hospitable for green politics. Europe is, after all, the global carbon economy’s number one net importer, a fact that has built into the European society two unique green virtues: parsimony when it comes to energy expenditure and profligacy when it comes to reckoning costs imposed on energy producers else- where. Green politics ought to be more potent in Western Europe, and yet it has not been ”” not much anyway.

Why not? The answer may lie in the political structures of postwar Western Europe, which were designed to stabilize social changes, curb the power of any radical ideas that start to catch on, and maximize consensus- building as the supreme political virtue. Indeed, the European political system is in many ways designed to engage with most new policy trends according to the stage one model. The system is, to borrow a term from the climatologists, characterized by high- ly efficient negative feedback loops. These mechanisms tend to absorb and accommodate any changes, rather than amplify or enlarge them. It is possible that the strength of these internal stabilizing mechanisms is playing a role in the gap between a green-hospitable European economy and political/public policy outcomes on environmental challenges.

The idea that a kind of political Eurosclerosis restrains the transition to stage two engagement by Europe’s political system gains currency as one examines current developments in the UK. There, the transition to stage two is well underway. Starting at the July 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit and con- tinuing through to the publication of the Stern Review last October, Prime Minister Tony Blair has with increas- ing urgency geared his government’s political and public policy agenda toward addressing the global climate crisis. Numerous green policy initia- tives are underway. (For example, while Canada’s government drifts along with no federal interim targets for reductions between now and 2050, debate is under way in the UK cabinet over whether annual reduction targets are needed or five-year benchmarks would suffice!)

At the same time, the leader of the British Conservative opposition, David Cameron, is more than keeping pace. A glance at the Conservatives’ website ( reveals an eye-popping transformation. Cameron’s new Conservative Party presents itself graphically as a blue- green alliance, a merger of sustainability and market forces that promises to better New Labour’s 60 percent carbon emissions cut, taking it to 80 percent by 2050 and holding average global tem- perature increase to 2 degrees Celsius.

The causes of the UK’s newfound political verdure are numerous and complex, but what cannot be denied is its suddenness. This rapid march into stage two engagement in the UK has all been done mid-mandate, with no electoral acid test being applied to the two parties’ green démarches. The sole indicator of Green electoral power was a 6.3 percent score in the 2004 European Parliament elections. Perhaps the first real test will come in the Labour Party’s leadership succes- sion, coming this September with Blair’s forced retirement. The over- whelming front-runner, Gordon Brown, 56, has served in the House for almost 25 years, and will celebrate in May a decade at No. 11 Downing Street. Brown is a cautious, consensus- oriented figure attractive to the party’s traditional working class constituency. As chancellor of the exchequer, he is reported to have resisted more aggres- sive green taxation of transportation fuels and is said to give pride of policy place to more traditional bread-and- butter issues. It will be interesting to see if a younger, greener challenger emerges to Brown ”” likely aiming at longer-term ambitions ”” as the leader- ship race gets underway.

The structure and tone of British politics has a lot to do with this impressive pace of transition to stage two. In a manner unthinkable in the consensus-oriented, gerontocratic, col- lective leaderships of Continental par- ties, Blair and Cameron have taken their parties in the direction they and their advisers believe the public and partisan interests dictate. European publics are just as concerned about greenhouse gases as the UK’s; Britain’s top politicians, however, have a power to act that their European counterparts do not share. And in the UK’s remorse- lessly competitive political market- place ”” where one or two elections as leader is far from unusual, contrasted with Western Europe’s sometimes decades-long tenures of service at the top ”” these politicians must use this power to adapt to elec- toral trends quickly, or perish.

One other factor helps account for the difference between the British and Continental environmental response in the political sphere: the form of repre- sentation. The Continent’s pro- portional representation gives the Greens a toehold in legisla- tures and executives that the UK’s first-past-the-post system does not. However, the parlia- mentary ”œfloor” given to the Greens also functions as a politi- cal ”œceiling,” in that it permits the big-tent parties to keep envi- ronmental issues at arm’s length, off in a ministry somewhere or deep in the bowels of an inter- party coalition agreement. The effect has been to disaggregate environmental issues from the mainstream policy agenda, rather than force the aggregators of that agenda, the big-tent parties, to find a place for the environment at the big table.

Proportional representation has allowed for slow-and-steady environ- mental gains, but at the cost of keep- ing green issues in a stage one state of engagement with the parties. The first- past-the-post system is biased more toward ”œtipping points,” where big- tent parties tend to keep major files on hold until, almost at a stroke, they embrace them.

Britain’s experience to date cer- tainly appears to show that environ- mental engagement can experience a sudden thaw. The United States may be about to make the same transition, only in this case it would be from a freeze so deep that to describe the US political system as even engaging with environment in a stage one model would be a stretch. In America’s win- ner-take-all political marketplace, environment has been a Democrat issue in a period of widespread Republican dominance, at the nation- al and state levels and in the executive and legislative branches.

When it comes to environmental issues, the gates of change in the US have been held shut not by the institutional power of this or that structure of American government, but by the power of a dominant Republican Party which has pursued a highly polarizing political strategy of governing in the narrow interest of its political base. That base includes not only the nation’s massive oil and gas extraction industry, which produces 7.1 million barrels of petroleum each day, but also the affluent suburban cit- izens who consume the plurality of the nation’s 20 million barrels each day. (Compare to Germany which produces 158,000 barrels a day and consumes 2.7 million barrels a day despite hav- ing a population fully 27 percent the size of the US’s.) Global warming, and environment more broadly, has been frozen out ”” in a way that would be outright impossi- ble in the accommodating, consensus-oriented political systems of Europe, and at least difficult in Britain’s somewhat consensual political culture.

There is much, however, to suggest that the gates of change are swinging open again in American politics. Environmental concern, with the climate crisis first and fore- most, may at last be coming to the fore. The impetus is arising outside the Washington beltway, in local initiatives that have been bubbling up, in municipal and state efforts, in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign in California, even in the runaway success of former vice-president Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. Democrats, having won a majority of the state governorships and the US House and Senate seats for the first time since 1994, have promised aggressive action to make up for lost time on climate and on broader envi- ronmental issues. The US government admitted in late December that polar ice melting arising from climate change is endangering the polar bear population, the first such admission made by the executive branch and an anticipation of more such to come. Democratic contender John Edwards, in announcing his campaign for the presidency in 2008, ranked ”œleading the fight against global warming” and ”œgetting off our addiction to oil” as pri- orities on par with foreign policy, health care and social policy. He is thus the first serious presidential con- tender to put the environment at the centre of his candidacy. He won’t be the last.

Here in Canada, with our British political system, somewhat American political culture and a federalism that brings with it characteristics reminis- cent of Western Europe (as well as Quebec’s distinctly Continental values and traditions), we are fairly clearly wit- nessing the transition from stage one to stage two political engagement. The first stirrings of genuine environmental engagement at the national level were the efforts of John Roberts as environ- ment minister in the early 1980s to put the acid rain issue on the political map in Ottawa and Washington. The Mulroney government expanded Ottawa’s growing commitment, with successful conclusion of the acid rain battle, the ambitious (for the time) Green Plan and the environmental protocols of NAFTA, as well as the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion and the 1992 Rio accords on climate change and bio-diversity. The incremental expansion of Ottawa’s environmental infrastructure and program- ming continued throughout the Chrétien years, before experiencing a massive burst in the Martin government’s tenure with Environment Minister Stéphane Dion’s Project Green and the 2005 Goodale budget. This effort, aimed at catching up on a Kyoto implementa- tion track on which the government had fallen dangerously behind, plowed more than $5 billion into climate change and other measures. It was hailed at the time as a breakthrough, earning plaudits from ENGOs and envi- ronmental academics alike.

In retrospect, the 2005 budget was probably the high water mark of stage one federal engagement in Canada. The next significant move of the Martin government on the envi- ronment belonged perhaps more to the second stage. The UN’s global Kyoto implementation conference, held in Montreal at the beginning of the 2005 national general election campaign, will be remembered as much for the criticisms of America’s global warming policy by Martin and former US president Bill Clinton ”” in Martin’s case made with electoral con- siderations partly in mind ”” as for the very real achievement of the confer- ence, under Dion’s chairmanship, reaching an agreement for future actions under the Kyoto framework that many had considered unattain- able. The process of electoralizing the environmental issue continued throughout the campaign, as Conservatives, New Democrats and media commentators increasingly pointed to the government’s weakness on actual emission cuts as evidence of a broader Liberal political dishonesty.

The arrival of the Harper govern- ment in one sense marked a severe set- back for the environmental issue set ”” climate change in particular. The deci- sion to withdraw de facto from the Kyoto Protocol is obviously a very severe setback. However, Harper’s dramatic departure from Ottawa’s growing stage one engagement with the envi- ronment seems mainly to have served to accelerate the issue’s electoraliza- tion. Sensing opportunity, Liberals and Greens have rapidly stepped into the vacuum Harper created, and in so doing have made the environmental issue set a key, high-salience differen- tiator between the two major parties for the first time in history.

Looking ahead, the principal ques- tion concerning environmental poli- tics in Canada is now whether or not the Conservatives will make a serious attempt at catching up to the Liberals’ embrace of the environment. Harper has moved to close his vulnerability, with the cabinet shuffle of January 4, the long-overdue establishment of a senior cabinet committee on environ- ment and the inclusion of ”œclimate change” as a priority. Now, Harper needs to decide whether environment is a major problem best solved by con- servative public policies (as Preston Manning argues), or whether conservatism dictates that environmental problems, insofar as they exist, should not be solved by public policy at all.

If Harper takes the former route, Canada’s next election will likely prefigure Britain’s. There, two parties, both very serious about the environ- ment, will differentiate on the issue chiefly by applying their ideological frameworks to dealing with the prob- lem. Britain’s next major policy battle will likely be between a ”œred-green” approach from Labour ”” heavy on governmental solutions and mobiliza- tion of social actors ”” and a ”œblue- green” approach from Cameron’s Tories, applying market-based pop- ulism to resolving the climate crisis.

If Canada’s Conservatives choose, however, to act as though their values and principles direct them to minimize the environmental challenge, or to minimize political response to it, our next election will likely prefigure America’s. There, it seems likely that the Democrats will commit fairly wholeheartedly to the issue, while Republicans will contin- ue with a stance that ranges from denial to very grudging acceptance of the problem, and solutions that lean strongly toward allowing or enabling non-federal-government actors to take the lead.

In all likelihood, Harper’s Conservatives will choose the latter course. Why? Because the caucus, the activists, the donor base and the vot- ing base want it that way. Not all Conservatives disagree with current climate science. But most of those who do are Conservatives. And they are not likely to flock toward the green stan- dard all of a sudden. This party is, after all, a product of a takeover by the Reform Party ”” the most democrati- cally run in Canada with the possible exception of the PQ. It does not turn around on a single poll, or by-election result, or cabinet shuffle.

The Liberals, by contrast, have made that turnaround. That is what happened in Montreal. And it happened in a way that is most unusual for the Liberals. If anything, one would expect this highly central- ized, Ottawa-wise, consensus-orient- ed, ”œnatural governing” party to have continued indefinitely with a stage one engagement on environmental issues. The Liberal Party of Canada carefully manages change in Canadian society. Liberals usually see themselves as campaigning on the promise of harnessing change in a safe, positive way, positioning them- selves between go-slow Conservatives and let-‘er-rip New Democrats. They win office on this promise of balance, and slowly stream the required changes into public policy via the fed- eral power structure, through federal- provincial conferences, in the funding of stakeholder groups and so forth. In other words, the Liberal Party acts much like a dam, behind which change builds up, and is slowly sluiced out downriver. The dam stays in place; the floodgate aperture is fixed; Canadians feel safe; change occurs incrementally.

However, the Liberal Party is not always the same animal. Its day-to-day incarnation is the Ottawa version of the party: the ”œnatural governing” group of caucus, leader and advisers. As well, key players link to the centres of institutional power on Bay St., Boul. René-Lévesque, and Howe St., in Queen’s Park and the Grande Allée. Others connect with important figures in the legal community, still others with environmentalists, feminists, human rights activists and cultural community figures. This set of people mans the Liberal dam, holding the sluice gate that allows incremental change to occur at a more or less con- stant aperture.

But this day-to-day natural govern- ing ”œparty” is not the same institu- tion that appeared at this leadership convention. Few business figures and no senior civil servants attended. Moreover, at the convention, 35 percent of the del- egates were under 25. More than half the convention was under 40. Just for that brief period of a leadership race, the ”œnat- ural governing” apparatus shared control over the sluice gate with a mass of young people.

So when a generational wave issue ”” like the envi- ronment/climate change ”” coincides with a leadership conven- tion, the sluice gate is cranked wide open, and a floodtide of change comes roaring through. The results are amaz- ing to behold. The issue, long held back with its potential energy build- ing, goes mainstream, generational power shifts in the party, and the whole massive apparatus of Canadian politics and public policy begins to engage in a whole new and much more meaningful way with the chal- lenge at hand.

Such is the achievement of the Liberal Party last December 2. And it carries with it at long last the promise of meaningful environmental engage- ment by Canada’s national govern- ment. Our political system is catching up with Canadians on the paramount challenges of our time. The next feder- al election will be the first national election in which the environment plays a critical role.

Because Stéphane Dion opened the gate.

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