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Ontario's Green Party leader says he has something in common with Elizabeth May, and it's not just their political allegiance.
Speaking to National Observer in a recent interview, Mike Schreiner said that he, too, is willing to be arrested to stop proposed mega-projects that could impact sensitive ecological areas.
The Green leader and local candidate for Guelph in the 2018 provincial election said he was proud of May, the leader of the federal Green Party, for standing up for what she believes in, and would “absolutely” get arrested conducting similar civil disobedience.
May, NDP MP Kennedy Stewart and others were arrested last month for violating a court injunction, at a protest in Burnaby, B.C. against Texas-based Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion.
“She stood up for her principles and she stood up for her constituents...and protecting their coast from a pipeline that threatens the B.C. coast,” he said in Ottawa on March 26.
“One of the things that I admire about Elizabeth, and I admire about all the elected Greens across the country, is that everyone has said, 'Our first priority is to stand up for my constituents who elected me.'”
Schreiner and May are set to appear together, alongside environmentalist David Suzuki and singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer at an Earth Day rally on April 21 in Guelph.
Asked what project he would be willing to get arrested over, Schreiner pointed to massive public protests in 2012 that ultimately derailed a proposed limestone project near Toronto, dubbed the "mega-quarry."
The project would have spanned almost 1,000 hectares, and many grew concerned about its impact on the area's rich farmland and the water table. Schreiner said the fact that it was close to the source of some of Ontario’s biggest rivers made it unacceptable.
“(Ford) is offering simple answers. I understand the appeal of it. But these are complex issues, that simple answers and half-baked politics on the back of a napkin are not going to solve,” Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner told @natobserver
“I would have done the same thing to prevent the mega-quarry from happening,” he said. “Protecting our waters, I think, should be top priority for government.”
Greens one of four publicly-funded parties
Ontarians go to the polls on June 7, and Schreiner has been busy criss-crossing the province, trying to lay the groundwork for a major breakthrough. The Ontario Greens don't have any elected MPPs, but they are one of the province’s four publicly-funded parties.
That’s because a campaign finance law passed by the Liberals in the wake of the cash-for-access controversy has now kicked in. Among other things, that law gives public funding to all parties receiving at least two per cent of the popular vote.
The Greens got 4.84 per cent in the last election in 2014, which at $2.71 per vote translates to public backing to the tune of $630,000. The party is using that public funding status to make the case to include Schreiner in the televised leaders' debate next month.
Greens have formed coalition governments in other countries such as Germany, and provincial Greens legislators are now supporting B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan's minority government. The party also has elected legislators in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
In Ontario, Schreiner said the Greens are “on track” to have a full slate of candidates by the end of April. He said the party is aiming for 50 per cent candidates to be women, at least 30 per cent visible minorities and at least 10 per cent youth.
“A lot of people are telling me...they don’t want to vote for the establishment party, they’re not happy with how they’ve run the province. But you know what — they’re looking at what the other establishment party, the Conservatives, have done and they’re saying, ‘I’m not going to vote for this, sort of, extremist position,’” said Schreiner.
“I’ve heard other people say they feel like the NDP has been missing in action…I think people are ready for change, and they recognize that the only way to change the status quo at Queen’s Park is to go for a new party with a new vision and a new way of doing politics, and that’s the Green Party.”
Ford offering only 'half-baked' ideas, says Schreiner
Schreiner is facing off against Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative Party leader Doug Ford and NDP leader Andrea Horwath. According to the CBC News poll tracker, Ford is currently leading in the polls by a healthy margin.
The Green Party leader admitted Ford is successfully tapping into people’s fears about economic inequality, precarious employment and climate change policies across the province. But he argued Ford is only offering poorly-planned solutions.
“(Ford) is offering simple answers. I understand the appeal of it. But these are complex issues, that simple answers and half-baked politics on the back of a napkin are not going to solve,” said Schreiner.
“I think he has limited appeal, and I think right now, the dissatisfaction that people have with the current Liberal government, means a lot of people are by default just parking their vote and polls with the (PC) party, because they haven’t seen the alternatives.”
A 'carbon fee' distributed as a 'dividend cheque'
Ford has been campaigning against the idea of what he calls a “carbon tax." At a Feb. 28 leadership debate, for example, he said it was a “job killer” for Ontarians.
The province doesn’t have a direct tax on carbon pollution — it has a carbon pricing system called cap and trade, where major polluters creating more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year must buy credits at government auctions or from other emitters with excess credits.
The province is also giving away free credits until 2020 as a way to bridge businesses into the program, meaning emitters can avoid some or all of their cap and trade obligations during this period.
Ontario now holds joint auctions with California and Quebec and has raised about $2.3 billion in provincial revenue from its carbon auctions.
Jerry Brown, the governor of California, a state with 39 million people, has said scrapping Ontario's cap and trade system would make no sense.
The Green Party would, in fact, move to a direct “carbon fee” that the party says would be distributed as a “dividend cheque” to individuals and householders.
The reason, Schreiner argued, is because the Liberals’ cap and trade system has not gone far enough to control pollution. He said people are realizing that “we can’t keep dragging our feet” on climate change.
“We should have a price on carbon pollution, period, and we should ramp it up,” he said.
“The Liberals have taken some action, but as usual, they’ve taken some of our ideas but they don’t implement them well, because they tend to put corporate interests ahead of people’s interests.”
Editor's note: this story was updated at 4:45 p.m. ET on April 19 to include information on Schreiner's local candidacy and his upcoming appearance with May.