What else does the federal Green party stand for along with its call to put Canada on a “war footing” against climate change?
The Greens have been propelled into prominence because of the potential of their signature issue to be a prime ballot-box question in the Oct. 21 federal election.
What else they stand for is less conspicuous. Their place on the political spectrum is obscured by their slogan: “Not Left. Not Right. Forward Together.”
Elizabeth May, the lawyer and environmentalist who has led the party since 2006, welcomes the scrutiny that has accompanied speculation her two-seat Commons caucus could grow to a handful or more.
In an interview with National Observer, May said this election “feels so different to me” from the last one, in 2015. She told anecdotes of unexpected support, donations and crowds from a pre-campaign tour of 33 communities across Canada.
“I hope for a minority Parliament,” she said, relishing the prospect of securing a strong climate action plan in return for supporting a government short of a 170-seat majority.
Canada's Green Party won't compromise
May, representing Saanich-Gulf Islands, was the only Green elected in the last election. Paul Manly won Nanaimo-Ladysmith in a byelection last May. Greens also hold seats in legislatures in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario and P.E.I.
“I’m more than ready for prime time. I don’t have any problem addressing any aspect of my life or my character and I’m very proud of my record" - @ElizabethMay told National Observer in an interview #cdnpoli
The centrepiece of the federal Green platform is Mission Possible, a 20-point national action plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions by rapidly phasing out fossil fuels, changing land use and industrial-agriculture practices, planting trees, improving the energy efficiency of homes and buildings and other actions.
May said the primary conditions for Green support of a minority government are adherence to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change position — that global warming must be held below a 1.5 C increase above pre-industrial levels — and a pledge for a “dramatic transformational commitment” to cut carbon emissions in Canada.
“We will not, even for a first speech from the throne confidence vote, work with any party that isn’t fully committed to going off fossil fuels quickly,” May said.
“That means you can’t be building any pipelines, you can’t be fracking, you have to cancel the LNG (liquid natural gas) plant in Kitimat, you have to actually mean what you say — that we are committed to cutting 60 per cent of greenhouse gases by 2030.”
On non-environmental issues, May cited social justice proposals as a priority for the Greens. She said the proposals make the Greens “more progressive” than the New Democratic Party.
Key proposals are national pharmacare, a guaranteed livable income, free tuition for post-secondary students, elimination of existing student debt and a federal investment in colleges and universities.
They would increase revenues by hiking corporate taxes on large companies, such as banks and internet giants, but not on small or medium-sized businesses. They would cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and halt fossil fuel industry subsidies.
The Greens have submitted their election platform to the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) for inspection and advice before announcing costed details. But May has promised that her party would balance the federal budget over five years. Their numbers are not available until after PBO inspection.
NDP MP's defection a 'game changer'
Also proposed is a non-partisan “collaborative council” of federal, provincial and municipal governments and Indigenous representatives. The aim would be to work out national policies on transport, housing, culture and other issues so as to facilitate shared goals and co-ordinated spending plans.
May said Canadians are frustrated by different levels of government contradicting one another and by the fact that municipal governments, which have heavy local responsibilities, control the least resources.
May said Quebec MP Pierre Nantel’s defection from the NDP to run for the Greens “is a game changer” that has spurred new support.
Seven weeks before the vote, the Greens had far more candidates nominated across Canada than the NDP. Rivalry between the two parties burst into full view this week over the defection of a group of former New Brunswick NDP provincial candidates to the Greens. The NDP has not nominated any candidates in the province and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has never visited the province.
May welcomed the defectors but the wind in her sails died quickly because of remarks by Jonathan Richardson, the federal NDP's executive member for Atlantic Canada, that there was anecdotal evidence of racism against Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban.
Prominent New Democrats then accused May on social media of welcoming racists. She issued a statement that Richardson's remarks were taken out of context and there is no room for any form of discrimination in the Green Party. “We have zero tolerance for sexism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, misogyny, homophobia or hate speech of any kind," May said. "Canada’s strength lies in its diversity.
If the Greens win 12 seats, enough to get official party status in the Commons, half or more of those seats may come from B.C. alone.
“Climate change, maybe for the first time in Canadian history, could be the No. 1 issue at the polls,” David Merner, a lawyer and former federal Liberal candidate who’s now running for the Greens in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, said in an interview with National Observer.
A reason Merner switched to the Greens after volunteering for the Liberals for 34 years, is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke his promise that the 2015 election would be the last under the first-past-the-post system. Electoral reform is a key issue for the Greens.
In their 2015 platform, the Greens were faulted for failing to cost their proposed guaranteed living income and for putting such low costs on their pharmacare and daycare programs that they didn’t appear viable.
Seth Klein, a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives at the time, noted a “disconnect” between the promises and the dollar figures. He’ll be watching for more convincing budgeting this time.
“There was a gap between the lofty words and the money, and you’ve got to see the money to know whether a lofty-sounding plan is actually a priority,” he said in an interview with National Observer.
Is Elizabeth May 'ready for prime time'?
Klein is now writing a book on “mobilizing Canada for the climate emergency.” He recently commissioned a national poll that showed “a large share of Canadians are already deeply worried about the climate crisis, and they are increasingly ready for bold and ambitious actions.”
Klein said he’ll be watching to see whether the Green platform repeats the “mistake” of pledging to balance the budget or to run surpluses, as the NDP and the Greens did last election. He said such fiscal policies don’t leave enough room for billions of spending on green infrastructure, from building upgrades and public transit to renewable energy projects.
Combined with a pledge to return carbon tax to consumers with a dividend, Klein said, the Greens' insistence on a balanced budget or surplus “massively undercuts the amount of money you can spend on green infrastructure.”
In a recent opinion piece for Postmedia, former NDP leader Tom Mulcair recently questioned whether May is “ready for prime time” even though she’s the longest-serving of the federal party leaders.
In her interview with National Observer, May, who said she had not seen the column, shot back: “I’m more than ready for prime time. I don’t have any problem addressing any aspect of my life or my character and I’m very proud of my record.”
Citing a remark she once made to a group of nuns, Mulcair suggested May says different things about abortion to different audiences. May said she has never wavered on the subject.
“The comments on abortion were convincing a roomful of nuns that a woman has the right to a safe and legal abortion and if you want to be pro-life, you have to support the life of women and support legal, safe abortion. I can’t help that the NDP clipped it and have used distorted clips from it over the years.”
It is fair to ask any federal leader for their views on abortion or LGBTTQ+ rights, as the Liberals had recently done by issuing an old clip of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaking in the Commons, she said.
‘Careless’ policy on Indigenous people
Indigenous writer Robert Jago last spring branded the Greens’ policy paper on Indigenous Canadians as careless, containing spelling errors, contradictions and proposals that “come off as well-meaning, but with no grounding in reality.”
The paper has been updated somewhat. For example, a proposal to repeal the Indian Act within 10 years has been replaced by a proposal to allow First Nations to opt out of the Indian Act.
But Jago said in an interview that he still considers the Greens “superficial and careless” about Indigenous policy. May compounded his view when, at an Aug. 20 town hall in Sudbury, Ont., she answered yes when asked whether First Nations could “opt out of Canada.”
“It raises the stakes of conflicts within communities significantly AND it again shows the lack of care the Greens give to Indigenous policy,” Jago said on Twitter.
May said she was speaking hypothetically about the logic of self-determination but later checked the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and consulted experts and found “it cannot be done.”
A hot-button issue for some candidates in Quebec is Bill 21, legislation that bans teachers, police and other public officials from wearing religious symbols. May called it an affront to individual rights but said she knows “it’s a very, very uncomfortable line for a lot of our candidates.”
“It’s up to them to say what they think because we support the grassroots… and believe that every one of our MPs should vote according to what their constituents would want them to do or say, not based on what the leader says,” she added.
A persistent controversy for the Greens is their stance on Israel and Palestine. As of 2016, they supported the BDS movement, which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions of the Israeli economy, but repealed the motion at a special meeting a few months later, substituting a position that still provokes criticism from both sides.
“It includes elements of boycotts and divestments and sanctions but it doesn’t endorse the BDS movement,” May said.
“It does say that, right now, as a party, we will always support a two-state solution, which means we have to support the right of the state of Israel to exist. That’s foundational. But it’s also clear that I see BDS as a movement that inadvertently strengthens the right wing in Israel.”
While the Greens will address many issues in their platform, May said, the election for her “is really about one thing.”
That is that Canada must urgently be put on a track away from “runaway global warming where there’s nothing humans can do about it.”