The 2011 election will mark Sharon Labchuk’s second run as a candidate in provincial politics.
The last time around, the P.E.I. Green Party leader’s stated goal was not necessarily to win a seat in her own riding — which she didn’t — but to "establish a presence" for the party in its first election.
This time, however, Labchuk is making a bold move by running against provincial Minister of Environment, Energy and Forestry Richard Brown in the riding of Charlottetown-Victoria Park.
"I wanted the opportunity to run against him to highlight deficiencies in the work of the government in that area in the province in the past four years," Labchuk said.
Labchuk, from the rural community of Millvale, had been wavering about whether to run in her own riding of Rustico-Emerald or Charlottetown-Victoria Park, when a series of mid-summer fish kills happened in western P.E.I.
Born: Trenton, Ont., Nov. 25, 1952.
Education: Some science at Simon Fraser University, horticulture at University of Guelph. No degrees completed.
Family: Two children: Camille, law student at University of Toronto; Bryan, vegan chef in Montreal.
Occupation: Director of organizing, Green Party of Canada.
"It just drove home the need that we really need to challenge this government on its environmental policy," Labchuk said.
"Everything this government has done underlies the health of the economy, the health of humans, of everything, and this government has done a very, very poor job in protecting the environmental conditions here."
One of Labchuk's target issues is the health of the province's groundwater and its impacts on health and the economy.
"The problems are very well known, they're documented and we've done nothing to address these problems," she said. "One- third of our budget is devoted to health costs right now. A lot of those costs could be avoided by implementing measures to protect people, like getting rid of toxic chemicals that are ending up in our groundwater."
Labchuk's second major platform is democratic renewal. She said her party's policy is to consult with people at the "lowest level" on matters that impact their lives, particularly in the rural areas of the province where "people have very few rights as compared to municipalities."
In 2007, although she didn’t win her seat in Rustico-Emerald, Labchuk took six per cent of the popular vote — a good showing in provincial terms for the third-place finisher. The party overall, with 3.04 per cent of the vote, ousted the New Democratic Party from third-party status.
The result was also notable considering the party had serious organizational challenges heading into the election, with no constitution and no mechanism in place for electing a leader. Labchuk had actually run with the title interim leader.
For this election though, Labchuk said the party is aiming to have a full slate of candidates and that the Green campaign will "operate at a higher level" than four years ago.
An environmental activist on P.E.I. for close to 25 years, Labchuk, for many Islanders, is the Green Party.
Before entering provincial politics, Labchuk was active federally, running in two elections for the Green Party in Malpeque in 2004 and 2006. She has also held significant posts for the federal Greens as environment and agriculture critic, and served as campaign manager for party leader Elizabeth May.
Labchuk, who currently works for the Green Party of Canada as national director of organizing, originally came to public attention as a co-founder of the Environmental Coalition of Prince Edward Island in 1988.
Throughout the early 1990s, she was active in waste-management issues, including opposing the Charlottetown energy from the waste plant and promoting composting. In the summer of 1996 she led a controversial campaign against pesticide use in the potato industry. The leaflet campaign described P.E.I. as a toxic playground, angering both the potato industry, which felt farmers were being victimized and the tourism industry, which worried the campaign would scare off visitors.
But Labchuk did not allow herself to be deterred. She left the founded Earth Action, and under the auspices of that group continued to be a vocal critic of the P.E.I. government's environmental policies. In 1999, she was again speaking out about agricultural practices, taking the government to task for failing to deal with how agricultural run-offs were poisoning streams, leading to large fish kills.
In 2004, Labchuk showed she could be more than a thorn in the side of government. During the summer of 2003 she filed a petition with the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency about how some pesticide companies, including multinational Bayer, were labelling their products as "safe." She argued doing so could cause some people to ignore safety precautions which were also on the label. In January, the agency ruled the labels on the pesticides, and advertisements for the products, must not say they were safe.
It was around this time Labchuk entered politics, an arena seemingly well suited to the outspoken environmentalist — and one that has brought her to this point as a candidate in one of the "must-watch" ridings of the 2011 election.