The rise of the Canadian Greens – Seden Anlar meets Abhijeet Manay
The lead-up to Canada’s federal elections on October 21st has been less predictable than expected – with scandals from Trudeau, and Green leader Elizabeth May most popular with Canadians in the polls. With unprecedented interest in the climate and the Green Party of Canada having recently doubled their single representation in a recent by-election, there is all to play for.
Seden Anlar from the Big Green Politics Podcast spoke to Abhijeet Manay, Deputy Leader of the Ontario Greens, about the recent climate change related scandals and what they say about corruption, the biggest challenges for the Greens, the potential for electoral reform and a new kind of politics, and what to expect from the upcoming federal elections in October.
Seden: This summer, a grave scandal occurred in Canada which was overlooked by mainstream media but I think what happened set the scene for this electoral campaign. On 17th June, Canada’s parliament declared a climate emergency. Only one day later, on 18th June, the same parliament approved the expansion of a massive pipeline that will increase oil production in Alberta and release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. How do you make sense of that? Is it the donations from oil lobbies? What is it?
Abhijeet: To give a little bit of context about what happened even before that, the Greens won the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election where Paul Manly was elected as the second federal Green MP in the House of Commons. Suddenly, the pressure was on for the other two parties – the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the Liberals – to prove their “environmental credentials”. They suddenly started tabling their climate emergency motions in the Parliament to change the narrative around Green Wave. This didn’t work well for them because the fact that they approved a pipeline one day later exposed how disingenuous these efforts were. So, it’s almost like green-washing. But the irony of it didn’t escape Canadians.
Seden: What did the Green Party do after that?
Abhijeet: Paul Manly and Elizabeth May are finally a two-people caucus in the House of Commons. And even if they can’t table any motions, they have enormously expanded their exposure to the Canadian electorate through the interest generated by the Green Wave. Before, when the Greens were just considered a “fringe party”, we weren’t given the same amount of media coverage. But now, across the board, we are.
Climate change is fast becoming the top issue for Canadians in this election if it’s not already. The other parties are now playing catch up to the Greens who have released a comprehensive plan to deal with the climate crisis. Our plan – mission possible – is modelled after the IPCC report, and our targets are aggressive but they’re necessary. We call for a just transition which is what Mike Shreiner, the leader of the Ontario Greens, calls ‘a clean and caring economy’ so we can make sure that we’re transitioning to the green economy but at the same time we’re also making sure that we build a bridge between the new and the old and that no one gets left behind.
So the messaging is important and something we struggled with especially when people viewed the Greens as ‘just the environmental party’. But this is changing now. Elizabeth May put this well when she said that we’re not a one-issue party but if we have to be, the environment is a good one issue to have.
Seden: Considering all this momentum around the climate crisis, would you say that this election is about the classic battle between the different economic models of the liberals and the conservatives, or are there new dynamics involved?
Abhijeet: This election feels different – even the polling dynamics. If you look at all the pundits that you see on TV, even they’re talking about the fact that the Greens are surging and the fact that in some provinces, as well as some federal polls, we’re ahead of the NDP in the 3rd place. And the Green Wave is one of the reasons why the Greens have adopted the slogan “not left not right but forward together”. We can’t play to those old left-right political paradigms anymore. We can’t afford to be a fractured society at this point.
Seden: Looking at the recent elections in Canada, what you said is quite evident – the Green Wave has been everywhere. For instance, in June 2018, Mike Schreiner, the leader of the Green Party of Ontario was elected as the first Green Member of the Provincial Parliament of Ontario.
Abhijeet: That’s right. The Greens in New Brunswick tripled their seats, from one to three. On the Prince Edward Island, the Greens went from one seat four years ago to two seats two years ago in a byelection, and now they’re the formal opposition there with eight seats. Then Paul Manly got into the Parliament as a result of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection. The Greens have held the balance of power in British Columbia for two years now. There are also many Greens that have gotten elected on the municipal level as part of the Green Wave.
Seden: Why is Canada experiencing this Green Wave and why now?
Abhijeet: The most obvious reason is the immediate effects of the climate breakdown that we’re experiencing. The rampant floods, storms, drought, and forest fires. All of it is right there staring Canadians at the face. The Canadians are recognizing that this is something we need to tackle in order to continue the way of life. Insurance companies are also starting to recognize that the premiums are going to go up and the climate crisis is essentially going to make their business model moot. So, the fact that corporations are getting on board is evidence of how serious the issue is. Finally, the political inertia that was there is now obliterated, and the fact that small parties are now rising to the fore is very disconcerting for all the status quo parties.
Seden: Most of the recent Green Wave took place on a local and provincial level. When this is the case in other countries, we usually don’t see the same level of success at the federal level. What do you think the Greens’ challenges are on a federal level?
Abhijeet: The main challenge is First Past the Post. The fact that the Greens have been elected at the rates they are in Canada is nothing short of a miracle because it’s such an unfair system and so unfairly stacked against the smaller parties. One of the reasons why the Greens in Europe are doing well is because they have Proportional Representation (PR) there, except for the UK. It’s incredibly undemocratic considering Elizabeth May was for the longest time the only Green MP even though we were polling around 5-6 percent. With PR that number would be much higher.
First Past the Post leads to all sorts of frustrating conversations around strategic voting when people don’t want to split up the progressive vote either for the Liberals or the NDP. The fact that people are not voting for what they actually want but against what they don’t want is such a pessimistic way of looking at politics. It doesn’t inspire people to go out and vote, and that’s also one of the reasons why we have such a low voter turnout.
Seden: That also means that the Green Party has to persuade voters to believe not only that they will best serve Canadians but also that other Canadians share the same set of preferences. That’s a lot of work, isn’t it?
Abhijeet: Exactly. We have to show our electability. It’s frustrating, but if you look at it through marketing lens, it makes sense because the brands of the Conservatives, the Liberals and even the NDP have longevity. On the other hand, the Greens who have been around for only two decades or so don’t quite have that yet. But the problem is that we don’t have time to execute the plans we need to have in place.
If PR was in place, people would vote for whoever has the best platform. Whether it was a mixed-member or proportional system, it would be such a different political landscape we would be able to deal with issues like climate change more profoundly. First Past the Post is an antiquated system, not designed to deal with the problems of the century. One of the greatest betrayals of Prime Minister Trudeau was when in 2015, he campaigned multiple times on getting rid of First Past the Post. But when he got into power, he went back on his promise which is one of the reasons why I left the Liberals to join the Greens.
Seden: So what are your predictions, what do you hope to see happening?
Abhijeet: I don’t know if the Black & Brown Face scandal is going to affect the Liberal Party’s numbers – maybe minor changes, but it seems like they might hold steady. Currently, as it stands, the Liberals and Conservatives are statistically tied but the liberals have more seats predicted.
So, there is obviously the case of Conservatives winning. Elizabeth May said that we will support any party that has a good climate plan, and it doesn’t look like the Conservatives have any sort of substantial climate plan. They call it ‘a real plan’ but the only thing they have in it is a procedure to build electric charger station infrastructure. Everything else is about garbage clean-up and things of that nature. There’s no price on pollution. The Greens are not going to be supporting a conservative government if their climate plan is as they presented. So it looks like it could even lead to a hung parliament. But as of now, it looks like it’s going to be a liberal minority government with the Greens holding the balance of responsibility which is what I’m hoping for.
Seden: So, let’s say there is no First Past the Post, and Elizabeth May has the same approval ratings. Come 22nd October, the Greens are in power in Canada. What will that Canada look like?
Abhijeet: That would be a Canada ready for dealing with climate change. Ready to lead the world in the climate action revolution. Ready to take its place back in the world order where it once was a respected member of the world community for its genuine action on the issues that are cared about, on the genuine action of the values that we embody. That’s exactly what the Greens will bring to the table when we form the government because it’s all the things that are mentioned in our plan – mission possible – that is forming the war cabinet, making sure that we transition to a clean economy, and making sure that we take care of our most vulnerable. Those are all Canadian values of cooperation and social community. We have global values but we also reflect our own country’s values as well, and that’s definitely the case with the Canadian Greens, and they definitely deserve a place at the House of Commons. The Greens would make a fantastic government when that time comes. Not if, but when.
For the full & audio version of this interview, check out the Big Green Politics Podcast. Available on all podcast platforms including Soundcloud, Itunes, Google Play, and Spotify. The Big Green Politics Podcast is a podcast that brings you the environmental & feminist angle on global politics news & interviews with Green thinkers, politicians & activists – @biggreenpolpod