MINI EP: Dimitri Lascaris, Green Party Leadership Candidate

Dimitri Lascaris, leadership candidate for the Green Party of Canada, joins Team Advantage to discuss socialism, the state of the Canadian media ecosystem, proposals to increase the power of workers in our economy, and how to challenge the establishment — both within political parties and in the media landscape.

Check out Dimitri’s campaign at teamdimitri.ca.

To vote in the GPC leadership race, buy or renew your membership by September 3, 2020. For information on the GPC Leadership Contest, visit greenparty.ca/en/leadership-contest.

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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. My name is Kate Jacobson, and I’ll be hosting today’s episode, and we are joined today by Dimitri Lascaris, who is a leadership candidate for the Green Party of Canada. Dimitri, thank you for joining us here on the podcast.

Dimitri: Thank you for having me on The Alberta Advantage. Looking forward to the conversation.

Kate: Could you tell us a little bit more, to get us started, about why you’re running for the leadership of the Green Party and why people with left-wing or socialist politics should be interested in your campaign?

Dimitri: Well, I’m running because I think that the core reason why we as a society have failed to come to grips with an existential climate emergency, and with endemic and worsening problems of social injustice and inequality, and with a decline in the quality of our democratic governments, is the rule of the corporate class and the billionaire class. Their power, the wealth that has been concentrated in their hands, and their privileges are the principal obstacle to the transformational changes we need in order to have not only a livable planet, but one that is peaceful and humane and socially just. So, my career has led me to place where I believe, candidly, that I am qualified to take on the corporate sector and overcome the resistance that will inevitably be encountered by any party, any movement, any political candidate who puts forward a truly transformational and principled agenda. That’s why I entered this race. I don’t, in many ways, relish this fight; I’ve been through enough fights with the corporate sector to understand that they can be bruising and difficult and can take a toll on you personally and on your family life, but I’m privileged to be in a position where I can do this, and I’ve decided to get involved, to put it very simply and candidly to you, out of a sense of duty. That’s why I’m here. I don’t have any political ambition — I’m going to run a campaign that’s true to my principles, and if that’s not what people want, then I’ll move on and do something else. But if I’m going to be the leader of the Green Parry of Canada, I’m going to do this the way that I believe to be true and right.

Kate: So, your platform proposes what it describes as an ecosocialist approach, and also proposes things like increased income taxes on the wealthy as well as a cap on wealth accumulation. How would you define socialism or ecosocialism, and how does this definition influence the platform you’ve put forward?

Dimitri: Look, I don’t offer some complex theoretical understanding of what socialism or ecosocialism is. There are certain minimum standards that a democratic society should meet and, to me, those standards can be embodied neatly in the phrase “ecosocialism.” Number one: there should be no poverty in a society that is ecosocialist. And that, to me, is an obscenity, that a country as wealthy as Canada, that we have tens of thousands of people living in the street and millions living in poverty, many of them children. That’s unacceptable. And a socialist society does not tolerate poverty. Number two: the socialist society does not tolerate the concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny elite that enables that elite to basically corrupt the democratic process to its advantage. Number three: an ecosocialist society is sustainable, and it understands the limits of Mother Earth and operates within those limits, and also understands the deep connection between human beings and their natural environment and that the modern capitalist economy has largely severed our connection to Mother Earth, and that our health as a species, and as individuals, depends intimately on our ability to reestablish that deep connection. A socialist society is peaceable. A socialist society does not tolerate war. A socialist society rejects militarism, both in domestic policing and in our external defence forces. A socialist society rejects the concept of violence. Generally, throughout our society, we live in a society which is glorifying violence on an almost daily basis. We reject that, as ecosocialists, and say that, no, we should be teaching people to be collaborative, cooperative, and to interact in a way that is mutually respectful and peaceful. So those are the hallmarks of an ecosocialist society. Of course, an ecosocialist society — I didn’t mention, but this should go without saying — has no tolerance for racism in any form. Our society not only is characterized by racism, but there is systemic racism, and it’s operating in ways that we’re not even aware of — for example, in our foreign policy. Obviously, it’s operating in our police forces, it’s operating in our correctional system, it’s operating in the way we treat Indigenous persons, persons from Black communities. These are the hallmarks of an ecosocialist society, and so — I don’t have some complex political analysis to offer you, but, fundamentally, I can summarize it in two words: human decency.

Kate: Mhm.

Dimitri: That’s ecosocialism. It’s human decency.

Kate: So, looking a little bit towards the Green Party — which is the party you’re running for leadership of — it has not, historically, been a party of labour, or even necessarily a party of left-wing ideas. The BC Greens, for example, actually stalled a minimum wage increase. Furthermore, the language of environmentalism and of sustainability, it often works to basically avoid politics or to depoliticize political issues rather than engage in political conflict. So, for example, last year, Elizabeth May used the language of “transcending left-wing and right-wing politics.” How would your leadership of the Green Party tackle this issue of depoliticizing politics that is common in environmentalists and sustainability movements?

Dimitri: Well, look — we live in a class-based society, and we have to come to terms with that fact. We live in a society that is ruled by a plutocracy. We live in a society [laughs] of grotesque, obscene levels of inequality, and we have to come to terms with that fact, in which workers are being routinely exploited. How did the Jeff Bezoses of this world become billionaires many times over? Let’s be blunt about it — by screwing the workers, that’s how they did it, and by externalizing the cost of their production, and by foisting upon all of us the immense environmental costs of their manner of doing business. So we have to be candid about these things, and we can attach to it whatever label we want. I am perfectly comfortable with the label of “socialism,” and I’m perfectly and candidly opposed to what we call the capitalist system. And in our party, there’s this unhealthy debate going on about whether we want to use labels. Well, we do use a label in the party, and that label is “green!” And that label comes with a certain degree of baggage, and many people use that label to try to characterize us as a one-issue party, and any label we use — and this is really the fundamental answer that I offer to people in our party who say “Don’t call us socialists! Don’t use the dreaded s-word!” — any label we use, at the end of the day, that is perceived by the elites to be a threat to their power and privilege will be demonized and will be vilified. You can call it a circular economy, you can call it a donut economy, you call it green — it doesn’t matter. If they perceive it to be a threat, they will demonize you and villainize you, and we have to have the courage to say, “No more. We are not going to buy into your corruptive rhetoric. We are not going to be marginalized by you. Those of you who are driving us off a cliff of unsustainability and leading us to extinction are the true extremists. We are the moderates. Those of us who demand solutions to the horrific crisis that you’ve created for all of humanity.”

Kate: So, as I’m sure you’re quite aware, Canada’s political and media establishment is rather hostile to ideas that challenge the status quo. The NDP, over the last thirty years, has essentially fallen into a neoliberal austerity frame wherever in the country they manage to gain power, and their candidate-vetting process has worked to exclude people who have spoken out of the occupation of Palestine. And then you add to that that our media ecosystem is largely owned by a few billionaire families and hedge funds and, when you’re looking abroad to other English-speaking countries, we see that recent attempts to bring strong social democratic ideas to the political mainstream — like the Corbyn project or the campaign of Bernie Sanders in the United States — have been met with withering opposition from within their respective parties as well as a very unfair and very hostile media. How would you build up support, both within the Green Party and outside of it, to weather a similar kind of opposition to your ideas?

Dimitri: Well, let’s deal first with the media. The media in this country is, frankly, a joke. I’m talking about the corporate media — I’m not talking about some of the very fine independent journalism that is being done by small media outlets like Ricochet Media, by Rabble, by the National Observer, by the Real News Network (an organization that I was affiliated with for a number of years — I’m still a board member — and was founded by a former CBC producer). So, there are people in the media who are doing wonderful work. The problem is that not too many of them are working in the mainstream media because it has been entirely co-opted by the billionaire class. So let’s take the example of Postmedia. Postmedia owns, I believe, something in the region of 35 to 40% of the newspaper outlets in this country. It is controlled by a US-based hedge fund, and its CEO, Paul Godfrey, is an unabashed propagandist for the far right as far as I’m concerned [laughs], and basically browbeats the editors of the many newspapers in that media empire into supporting conservative candidates even when they themselves, in good conscience, don’t feel that they should be doing that. So what are we going to do about that? We’re going to break up the corporate media. We’re going to break up the Post Media of this country into a thousand pieces. We are going to prevent foreign ownership and corporate domination of the media. And I think we have to offer a robust plan for public funding of independent media organizations. And there’s a progressive economist by the name of Dean Baker in the United States who’s come up with an idea that I’m very intrigued by, which is that you create a public fund to finance the independent media, and people are basically allocated a nominal share of that fund, and they elect where their share of that fund is going to go in the independent media. They basically get to vote where their allocation goes. The money is provided by the government, but the government doesn’t decide which media organizations receive the money — citizens do. And that will be based, of course, on their level of trust of the media organization. This is an idea whose time has come. People have lost confidence in the corporate media. That’s why their business model is failing — it’s a complete and utter disaster. [laughs] It does have something to do with social media, of course, but also due to the fact that they’ve lost the trust of the public. And rightly so. So we have to start dealing, realistically, with the problem of media domination. For me, a transformational moment in my life was reading Noam Chomsky’s and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent. It was only then that I really understood the extent to which we are being manipulated into acting contrary to our own interests, and to the interests, even, of our own children. So we have to come to terms with the fact that we have a corrupt, propagandist system of media which is leading us down a path of, frankly, catastrophe. Within the party structures — it’s not just the media, as you’ve indicated, which are going to oppose a truly transformational, progressive agenda — but even within the political parties, there is an establishment which will fiercely resist this type of change because some of its members have been co-opted by the plutocracy. [laughs] Some of them, they don’t even necessarily realize that that’s happened to them, that they have been. And they’ve been hoodwinked, by the very propaganda that I’ve discussed, into thinking that the current system is inevitable and in the public interest. So, you know, there’s no easy way to overcome that resistance, as we saw with Jeremy Corbyn — who, I think, had it not been for the vicious and mendacious opposition of the Blairites, would have ultimately succeeded in becoming the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Were it not for the Clintonite, Obama-esque establishment within the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders would, I think, very likely have emerged as the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. I think we know, we understand, that there is this opposition there. I think in the Green Party — and this is one of the reasons why I wanted to become engaged in the leadership contest — the establishment is not nearly as firmly entrenched as it was in UK Labour or the Democratic Party in the United States. This is a much more grassroots party. And the proof of that — you mentioned Palestine, I think this is a vivid example of that. In 2016, I brought forward a resolution calling for the Green Party of Canada to support the BDS movement. No party with representation in Parliament had ever adopted such a policy. Elizabeth May quickly conveyed to me that she opposed any motion expressing support for the BDS movement, and the resolution went to a vote on the convention floor in August of 2016 where Elizabeth expressed her opposition to the motion before the Party’s members, before those who were in attendance, and approximately two thirds, I would say, ultimately rejected her arguments and adopted the BDS resolution. And, ultimately, this was a very difficult period in the party’s history, but we emerged from that with a policy which calls explicitly for sanction on the state of Israel, including an arms embargo, and a ban on the importation of settlement products, which received the ratification of over 90% of the members who voted. So it was very, very popular. Now, let’s fast-forward to 2018 in the NDP. The NDP Youth bring forward a very, very popular resolution, which was much more modest than the policy we brought forward. It simply called for a ban on the importation of settlement products. Jagmeet Singh, who personally told me, when he was running for leader — and I have this on video — that he supported sanctions on the state of Israel, wouldn’t even allow that widely-popular resolution to go to the convention floor to be voted upon, let alone adopted. So, this is an example of how the Green Party of Canada is fundamentally in the control of its members to a far greater than any other party with representation in Parliament. So I’m hopeful. I’m not naive — there will be people, in the right wing of our party, who will oppose the kind of agenda that I’m putting forward, and some of them have made very clear that they do oppose it already — but I think that our party has the ability to overcome that resistance because we’re much more grassroots than any other parties in Parliament.

Kate: I want to probe a little bit deeper into some of the comments that you made on the media because I think some of your ideas are very interesting, but obviously the ones that you bring up require power to be able to implement. What would your strategy be for dealing with the media if you were the leader of the Green Party before you have the power to implement these types of things like breaking up the media, cooperatives, things like that?

Dimitri: Right. Well, one thing — I’ve really assiduously cultivated relationships with the independent media. This is something that, for some reason, the Green Party leadership has not, it seems to me, invested a lot of time and energy in. I routinely contribute to op-eds to the independent media. I make myself readily available to the independent media. So I think we have to use these small, but robust and principled media organizations, use their willingness to hear us out and to convey to their audiences our perspectives on the state of things as much as possible. So I think that’s very, very important. I think we have to become much smarter about using the social media which are becoming an increasingly important source of information for our citizenry and, particularly, for young Canadians. We haven’t done a particularly good job of that. And I think we also have to be willing to stand up — being the leader of a party that has representation in Parliament presents you with a bit of a bully pulpit. They can’t completely ignore you. [laughs] And when we stand up in Parliament, when we’re in front of the microphone, when we’re in leadership debates — and those opportunities will arise — I intend to articulate a vigorous critique of the mainstream media and to be really unapologetic about the fact that I’m a socialist and that we’re living in a plutocracy, and raise the kinds of questions that people will not ask in the mainstream media, like: why do we have billionaires? Why do we tolerate the existence of billionaires? Why do we have a $32,000,000,000 of expenditure in the military when we are not confronted by any significant military threat on our borders? The mere fact of asking these questions in positions where the mainstream media can’t completely ignore you is, I believe, going to stimulate a very, very important debate that will ultimately lead to transformative change.

Kate: The NDP is formally affiliated with many trade unions in Canada and, ostensibly, is able to use this alliance with organized labour to represent the demands of working people and to be the voice of organized labour in Parliament, with the huge caveat that this doesn’t always really result in great results for organized labour. How would your leadership of the Green Party engage with the organized labour movement in Canada, particularly trade unions?

Dimitri: Well, by putting forward a platform that speaks to their hearts and minds. And so that’s exactly what I’ve endeavoured to do with the help of an incredible platform committee. I just want to mention them because I’m so amazed by the work that they do: Professor Radhika Desai, who is from the University of Manitoba, is an expert in political economy. Alan Freeman, who was an economic advisor to the administration of Ken Livingstone, the major of London in the United Kingdom. Colin Griffiths, former science and technology critic in the shadow cabinet of the Green Party. Rowan Miller, who is an ecosocialist candidate, 22 years old, in the Maritimes. And many others are members of this platform committee. And we put our heads together and decided we’re going to come up with a workers’ rights platform that is unlike anything Canada has seen in our lifetimes. And that is what we did. So, our platform calls for imposing a limit on the spread between executive compensation and worker compensation of ten to one — which is a substantial spread, but nonetheless far better than what we have today, where some CEOs are making, in a few hours, as much as workers make in an entire year. We are calling for claims of workers, in corporate insolvencies, to be prioritized over those of secured creditors like banks and hedge funds so that their pensions are protected to the greatest possible degree. We’re calling for a $20/hour minimum wage. We’re calling for mandatory representation of workers on the boards of public corporations — something that’s existed in Germany for some time, but something, now, workers are largely voiceless in the board rooms of the country. And so, once this policy platform was issued, Sid Ryan — former president of the Ontario Federation of Labour — said that this was far beyond anything he has seen from the federal NDP, or any provincial NDP, in his lifetime, and he endorsed us — he endorsed my campaign, he endorsed our workers’ rights platform. That’s never happened before, to my knowledge, in the history of the Green Party, that a well-respected major figure from organized labour endorsed a workers’ rights platform put forward by a Green Party candidate and said that it was unliie anything he had seen from the NDP. That is how we’re going to get workers to come over to our party in droves, by speaking on their behalf and being their true champions and not these pretenders that now run the NDP. The NDP has been taking workers for granted because we’d basically ceded to them the role of being the champion of working Canadians. Well, it’s time for that to come to an end, and to really show working Canadians what a true defender of workers’ rights looks like. So this, to me, and to my entire campaign team, is absolutely essential, that we draw working Canadians under the banner of the Green Party of Canada and defend their interests courageously and relentlessly, and that’s what we will do.

Kate: One response I can imagine that trade union leaders, and even some workers, might have to the arguments that you’ve put forth there, is that the NDP, as a party — yes, they might have to make a lot of compromises, yes, they might not be doing the things that they like, but the NDP has been in power in multiple provinces and also has more seats in the House of Commons than the Green Party, so it is a better vehicle, in that sense, for representing the interests of workers and of organized labour. How would you respond to that kind of argument about the relative size of the Green Party and the relative power it can wield on behalf on workers?

Dimitri: Well, what good is that actually doing for working Canadians? Yeah, they’ve got a lot more seats in Parliament than we do. Has this actually dramatically improved the situation of working Canadians? The situation of working Canadians, over the past two to three decades, has been a story of unrelenting decline. They have less and less power, their quality of life is becoming lower, their employment security is becoming increasingly compromised: so what exactly has the NDP accomplished for working Canadians in the last 20 to 30 years that entitles them to continue to enjoy the support of organized labour? I think if you want, as a working Canadian, as a labour activist, as a union leader, to motivate the NDP to actually be true to its word and defend the rights and interests of working Canadians, then you have to show them that your vote cannot be taken for granted. Put your vote behind somebody who is actually walking the walk and not simply talking the talk, and then that’s going to get the attention of the NDP leadership. But if you continue to vote for them, despite the increasingly impoverished outcomes that they’re achieving for you as working Canadians, you should expect more of the same.

Kate: If our listeners are interesting in your campaign and your platform and they want to learn more, where should they look?

Dimitri: They should Google my website, teamdimitri.ca. If you are a working Canadian and that’s what matters to you most, is our workers’ rights platform, you’ll find it there. We also have an economic platform, and all of these are, of course, interrelated. We have a foreign policy platform, which is [laughs] unlike any that you’re going to see from a Canadian politician in Parliament, I can assure you of that. And we’ll be coming out with an Indigenous Rights platform soon, an equity platform. And I invite you not only to look at the platform, but also to provide us your input, because we have received valuable input from members of the public, and it’s, in some cases, enabled us to make important and productive modifications to our platform.

Kate: And, Dimitri, if listeners want to vote for you in the Green Party leadership race, what do they need to do, and when?

Dimitri: Time is short [laughs], so you need to join the Green Party of Canada by September 3rd. We have already seen a huge influx of people — many of them from the NDP, many of them people who’ve become completely disenchanted with electoral politics, and even from the progressive wing of the Liberal Party, we’ve seen a lot of people join. But the fact of the matter is that all the candidates are trying to recruit supporters to their cause, and for this campaign to prevail, we’re going to need to do a really good job of recruiting supporters to the cause of this campaign. And so, if you’re inspired by what you’ve heard or what you see on our website when you look at our platform, then you should go to the donation button on our website — teamdimitri.ca — click on that, it will take you directly to the membership sign-up page and, for ten dollars, you can become a member for one year. You don’t have to be a citizen; it suffices for you to be a permanent resident. And, importantly, 14 years or older, you are eligible to join the party and vote in the leadership contest. But you’ve gotta do that by September 3rd. The voting is online — it’s in the latter part of September — and I would urge you, if you are inspired by what you’ve heard tonight or what you see in our platform, not only to join yourself but to tell people who share this vision, who support these values, to join themselves. Become a recruiter. Tell your friends, tell your colleagues, tell your comrades. This is an opportunity to make a difference in Canadian politics. Because I guarantee you one thing — if I become the leader of this party, I’m going to shake things up. [laughs] I can guarantee you that. I don’t know what’s going to happen, exactly, but there is going to be a new conversation taking place in this country. Every single person on this team is absolutely committed to that. We are going to get outside the narrow, suffocating bounds of political discourse in this country and raise the questions that nobody in Parliament dares to ask. So, please, give us your support.

Kate: Amazing. Thanks so much for joining us here on The Albert Advantage. Is there anything that we haven’t gone over that you want to add to this?

Dimitri: Nothing other than that it’s been a privilege to run in this race and, frankly, I feel like I’m a better human being for it.

Kate: Amazing.

Dimitri: Thank you.

Kate: Thanks so much for joining us.

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