(19 May 2018) – The Green Party of Ontario is using this election to shoot itself in the foot, and it wants the rest of us to help pull the trigger. For the second time they are throwing most of their available resources into an attempt to elect the provincial leader, Mike Schreiner, here in Guelph. I am about to go out on a limb and predict that they will not succeed. Even if they do, they won’t. Not in the long run.
The Ontario Greens have taken a page out of their federal cousin’s playbook. When you’re low in the polls and can’t get anyone elected, blow the bank on the leader’s election. It worked for Elizabeth May after she found her way out to Saanich. Her party threw its full weight into her campaign to win a seat and pulled it off. That’s what Schreiner is attempting here in Guelph.
There is a huge difference between the two situations. Schreiner doesn’t have anything even close to the public profile May brought to the table. Before her election as federal leader, May spent 17 years as executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. I have two memories about her time in that job, one good and one bad.
On the good side, she worked to clean up the Sydney Tar Ponds. This was a highly toxic area of a creek that emptied into Sydney Harbour. It was poisoned by run off from coke ovens in the Sydney Steel Corporation’s mill. The ovens killed workers in the mill and the ponds killed people in the town. May worked well with the local United Steelworkers and other labour and environmental groups to end the tragedy.
The other side of her coin was being part of the group that gave Brian Mulroney an award for being Canada’s “greenest Prime Minister.” Enough said about that.
May brought these chops to the table when she ran for the Green Party of Canada leadership in 2006. Even so, she didn’t have much success in building the party into any sort of electoral success. Although it has always been an effective environmental conscience for Canada, it is still stuck at 6%, according to the CBC poll tracker on May 15. A big reason is that there is very little in the Green Party program that can’t be found in the other three big parties.
It’s always risky to say anything critical about the Green Party’s leader. Elizabeth May has become the Mother Theresa of Parliament Hill. I can’t think of a single positive accomplishment resulting from her lone seat in the Commons. She wants everyone to play nice, but so do Michael Chong and Nathan Cullen. She’s against the Kinder Morgan pipeline, but so is most of the NDP caucus.
Mike Schreiner is travelling the same road, except that he doesn’t have May’s chops. He’s a very nice person and always says hi when he sees me. But he’s leading a party stuck at 4.7%. What he needs, and what May needs, and what the Green Party needs, is not a lonely seat in the back row of Queen’s Park. What they need, and we all need, is proportional representation. It won’t come from getting one foot through the first-past-the-post doorway.
It will come from helping to elect a party willing to use its majority to abolish the system that got it there. Does such a party exist? I don’t know for sure, but the best slim hope lies with the NDP.
Ironically, the Green Party’s best chance for long-term success will be an NDP majority on June 7.