For many Canadians, recent dire warnings about the threat of global warming to the future of our planet have pushed environmental issues to the top of the political agenda.
In May, the by-election victory of Green Party candidate Paul Manly in B.C.’s Nanimo-Ladysmith riding, previously held by the NDP, gave it a second seat in Parliament and underscored its higher profile in Canadian politics. The Greens now form the official Opposition in PEI and sustain the NDP in B.C.
While environmental issues may carry more weight in B.C. than in Quebec, environmental deterioration and greater voter interest in the Green message have persuaded one local activist to take up the challenge.
“They don’t come greener than me,” Westmount High teacher Robert Green said with a smile, as we met for coffee after announcing he would run for the Green Party in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount in the October 21 federal election.
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A St. Thomas, Ont. native, Green became active in student politics when he was enrolled at Concordia, where he served two terms as president of the students’ union. As a teacher at Westmount High, he has been outspoken on academic and workplace issues and related political questions. Weather permitting, he commutes to work on a bicycle from the Mile End home he shares with his partner Véronique Fortin, who teaches Law at the Université de Sherbrooke. A keen observer of the political scene, Green readily admits he faces a major obstacle in aiming to defeat the popular former astronaut, now federal transport minister Marc Garneau. (Green Party candidates in the riding garnered less than five percent of the vote in the past two elections won by Garneau.)
Green picked up his activist bent at home in St. Thomas — his father and sister are Anglican ministers who believe in social Justice, and his mother taught high school, including refugees.
“The values that my parents instilled in me is a big part of my activism, as is my experience at university here in Quebec.”
While teaching a course called the Contemporary World, which deals with the science of climate change, he says he felt compelled to act and run for the Green Party. “The science is getting more and more terrifying,” he says. In the classroom he helps students understand that global warming and environmental degradation have “enormous and terrifying consequences for them.” They respond by asking why so little is being done at the political level.
“My willingness to throw my hat into the ring is partly a response to that. I want to be a model for the kind of civic activism that is essential for us to solve this climate crisis. The action that has been taken has been insufficient.
“We are still doling out billions of dollars to fossil fuel companies in subsidies, and there can be no
moving beyond the targets we have laid out while we continue to dole out these kinds of subsidies.”
The Green Party wants to scrap all subsidies and supports to the oil, coal, gas, and coalbed methane industries and invest these funds in green technologies and industries. The party also opposes all pipelines that ship raw bitumen out of Canada such as the Trans Mountain pipeline.
“The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been clear that we now have a window of 11 years to bring in massive reductions in greenhouse gases, or we are looking at potentially a series of disasters that could spell the collapse of civilization.”
Green says 16-year-olds in his class this year told him they would be reluctant to have children because “they don’t feel this world will be safe for them.”
Unusual flooding in Quebec, wild fires in B.C., and unprecedented hurricanes in the Global South
(developing world) all result from global warming. And the most extreme consequences in terms of death, destruction, and displacement are happening in these countries.
Green recalls that while he served twice as a volunteer in the West African state of Senegal for the
human-rights group Alternatives, a coastal village had to be moved to the interior because its well water became too salty.
“The consequences are not in the theoretical future, they’re happening right now. Those in power are not acting with the urgency that the science demands of us.”
Green makes no bones about the challenge he faces to win in what he concedes is a Liberal fortress.
“I’m up against a star candidate. Marc Garneau is as high-profile a Liberal candidate as they come.”
Green cites recent polling showing what he calls a “steep increase” in the percentage of voters who say they would vote for the Green candidate, to about 13% nationally.
“We’re going in the right direction but, there is no doubt, I will have my work cut out for me.”
He has asked for a month’s leave without pay so he can campaign full time.
As for the Liberal’s approach to the environmental issues – trying to marry preventive measures, such as the carbon tax and proposed ban on single-use plastics, while encouraging growth, and pushing ahead with Trans Mountain – Green says it’s not good enough.
He blasts Liberal and Conservative governments for failing to go after wealthy Canadians who move substantial sums offshore to avoid paying Canadian income taxes.
“We’ve seen next to nothing in Canada, in spite of the fact that there were a large number of Canadians named in leaked documents that were part of the Panama Papers.”
Following the Lac Mégantic rail disaster in which 47 people died in 2013, Green alleges Garneau has “done nothing” to change what he says is a system of laws and regulations that allow the private rail industry to regulate itself.
Garneau, however, says his government has made “meaningful progress” through “significant actions” to improve rail safety in the transportation of dangerous goods when it comes to prevention, effective response, and accountability.
Ottawa has adjusted train speeds, increased inspections, strengthened insurance requirements and information sharing with municipalities. It developed a new tank-car standard for transporting flammable liquids by rail, accelerated timetables on mandatory use of the safest possible containers for dangerous goods, and increased rail safety inspectors at Transport Canada to 259 from 144.
Green, dismissed strategic concerns, that a vote for a third or fourth party could help the Conservatives, noting that the Tories “are not very competitive” in the riding.
“I do believe that this is a riding where people can vote their conscience. Voters need to consider which party has a realistic plan that can address the climate emergency that we are in. Can we afford to wait another election to address that emergency? This might be our last chance.”
“The Green Party has a total platform that addresses the science.”