Winning 1 seat in Ontario election would be breakthrough, Green Party says
Analysts say it makes sense for the Green Party to focus on Guelph but it's still a long shot
In a park by a river that runs through Guelph, near some old growth trees, the Green Party of Ontario nominated its leader Mike Schreiner to run in the next provincial election.
From British Columbia, a Green party MLA was there. It was a sunny, warm and perfect late July day for an outdoor political meeting. Optimism was running high.
It was not the first nomination for the party ahead of the 2018 general election, but it was an important one. The party hopes to win at least one seat in Ontario and is pinning its hopes on Guelph. Its leader says winning even a single seat would constitute a breakthrough.
Schreiner, 48, is setting his sights on Guelph for the second time. In the 2014 election, he placed third with nearly 20 per cent of the vote. He was elected leader in 2009 and has run for the party three times.
"We're going to win Guelph. I'm going to win in Guelph. That's what I want to do," he said.
The party defines itself as fiscally conservative, socially progressive and environmentally focused. It believes "all life on the planet is interconnected and that humans have a responsibility to protect and preserve the natural world."
In an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, Schreiner said the party will run candidates in all electoral districts in the June 7, 2018 election, but holding just one seat would enable the party to ask questions in Question Period, introduce private member's bills and take advantage of resources available to MPPs.
It would have a real voice inside the legislature, he said.
According to a standing order of the Ontario legislature, a "recognized party" is one that has a caucus of eight members.
"The conversation I have over and over with Green Party candidates is: We know this isn't the easy way to win a seat in the provincial legislature, but we know it's the right thing to do," Schreiner said.
Liberal MPP Liz Sandals, 69, who won the riding in 2014 with nearly 42 per cent of the vote, has not said whether she is going to run again. In a statement, Sandals said she wishes Schreiner well in his campaign.
"I know from knocking on doors in Guelph and talking to constituents that folks are strongly behind the important work we're doing right now, like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making prescription drugs free for young people and making university and college free for middle and low income students," Sandals said.
"Guelph is a city of communities, distinguished by citizens who are passionate about civic life — people like Mr. Schreiner, who I know has wanted to run again in Guelph for quite some time."
According to Nick Bergamini, spokesperson for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, the party has not yet set a date for the nomination. The NDP did not return calls.
And they say one seat would make a huge difference because of the public recognition and media attention the party would receive.
Nelson Wiseman, director of the Canadian studies program and a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he thinks it makes sense for the Green Party to focus its efforts on Guelph.
"It has a better shot there than anywhere else," he said.
He noted Mike Nagy, a Green Party of Canada candidate, received more than 21 per cent of the vote in Guelph in the 2008 federal election.
In the 2014 provincial election, he said the PC, NDP and Green candidates each received roughly 20 per cent of the vote.
"If there is a reaction against the Liberals this time, and the Liberal vote drops 20 per cent, where that 20 per cent goes could determine who gets elected in Guelph. It's conceivable they could win. They need the vote to be fractured in such a way that they could come up with the middle," he said.
Myer Siemiatycki, a professor in the politics department at Ryerson University in Toronto, says the party has been fielding candidates for more than 30 years in Ontario.
"It would be significant and a breakthrough if they could get a beachhead," he said.
Siemiatycki said the Green Party is being wise in keeping its ambitions modest mostly because Ontario has a relatively stable political system in which historically the three main political parties have dominated politics. He said it's not random or accidental that Guelph has been targeted.
He said major upsets have occurred when "circumstances arise that make large cross-sections of the public fed up with the options that were previously put on offer by provincial political parties."
Also, he said the first past-the-post system is not kind to what he called "new parties" because it is winner take all.
"Whether they have a shot at this time around will depend on a number of factors," he said.
Schreiner, a former small business owner, acknowledged that Guelph is a good place to run.
"Guelph, for a smaller sized city, is very vibrant, very diverse, very progressive and it's the kind of community that Greens do well in."
The Green Party would support small business by lowering payroll taxes to promote job creation, protect water by making public drinking water for municipalities the top priority when the province issues water taking permits, and fight climate change through a carbon fee and dividend plan.
Under the plan, the party would put a price on carbon pollution, that price would be high enough to change behaviour of people and businesses, and revenue from the plan would go to individuals, not businesses, in the form of a quarterly dividend cheque. "You can decide how you want to spend your money to lower your carbon footprint," he said.
Schreiner also said the Green Party would review the salaries of CEOs of Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation and Metrolinx. He said dissatisfaction with the Ontario Liberals and how they have run the public sector runs deep.
PC Leader Patrick Brown has also said the party, if elected, would cut the salaries of Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation executives.
'Balance of responsibility'
At the nomination meeting, B.C. MLA Adam Olsen, who represents the riding of Saanich North and the Islands, spoke to the gathering, saying a few elected representatives can make a big difference.
In the last B.C. election, the Greens held the balance of power. The Liberals won 43 seats, the NDP won 41 and the Greens won three. The Greens and NDP made a deal that would allow for a minority government to govern B.C. for the next term.
Olsen said what happened in B.C., "hasn't happened very often in Canada."
"All 87 MLAs have a responsibility to look after British Columbia. I am one of those. My two colleagues and I make up three of those. But it came down to us," Olsen said.
"In British Columbia, three Green MLAs had a considerable amount of responsibility. And look what they did with it. They created a stable government. They didn't take positions in cabinet. They didn't take money for the sake of taking money.They simply tried to achieve a stable government founded on the principles they ran on."
That's kind of model he said he hopes that the Green Party in Ontario will run on.
But principles matter, he added.
"Be courageous. Stand up for what you believe in. Put it out there. And if I was to say one thing, I would say, make sure that this is the best campaign platform you have ever written."