Not easy being Green: Against odds, Green Party candidates hope to win

The Green Party doesn't have a seat in the Ontario legislature and its leader won't be duking it out in televised leader debates. But Mike Schreiner, who has led the party since 2009, says the province is ready for that to change.

Environmentally focused party has never won a seat in the Ontario legislature

Mike Schreiner, pictured at the launch for his Guelph campaign, and other Green candidates say they believe the party has a chance in the 2018 provincial election. (Emily Fearon/CBC)

The Green Party doesn't have a seat in the Ontario legislature and its leader won't be duking it out in televised leader debates. But Mike Schreiner, who has led the party since 2009, says the province is ready for that to change. 

"People are telling me that the Greens are a breath of fresh air," Schreiner told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

I think people know that we have to act on the climate crisis.- Mike Schreiner

Some voters are tired of the status quo and are warming up to a party that focuses more on "putting people first" than on political partisanship, he said.

"The first televised leaders debate, I saw all three status quo leaders bickering with each other instead of talking to people honestly and straightforwardly about how we can build Ontario up."

Schreiner spoke optimistically about his party's chances, but the barriers to get to Queen's Park are significant for the Greens.

While the party's share of the popular vote in Ontario has slowly crept up since it registered as a political party in 1983, it only received 4.8 per cent of all the ballots cast in the last election.

And Schreiner and the Greens are facing a Progressive Conservative leader who's campaigning on ideas very unlike their own, and who has been riding high in the polls.

Climate change

PC Leader Doug Ford told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning he wasn't hearing a peep from voters about the environment. Ford has also promised to scrap carbon pricing in Ontario and challenge the federal government on its imposed carbon tax on provinces. 

But Schreiner said he isn't hearing what Ford is hearing on the campaign trail, and that the voters he's talked to believe climate change is a big concern. 

"I think people know that we have to act on the climate crisis," he said. "I refuse, and most people I talk to refuse, to let floods and droughts and other extreme weather events become the new normal."

To tackle the issue, the Green Party said it would also get rid of Ontario's current cap-and-trade system, but replace it with what Schreiner called a "revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program."

It would involve putting a price on greenhouse gas pollution that's high enough to change behaviour, then giving the proceeds back to Ontarians to help them transition to a low-carbon economy. 

"We need to help people with that transition," Schreiner said. "I think people make smart choices. I trust people to make those smart choices."

Greens in Ottawa

The Green Party has a swath of candidates in the Ottawa area who are pushing the party's platform on issues including electricity pricing, affordable childcare and implementing a guaranteed annual income.

James O'Grady, the party's candidate in Nepean, has watched schools in his riding close over the last year. And as a former teacher, he said he's seen classrooms lacking resources.

O'Grady told CBC Radio's All In A Day that amalgamating the public and Catholic school boards — something that's been in the Green Party platform for years — would help solve these problems and ultimately saving money. 

Ottawa–Centre candidate Cherie Wong said the party wants to give parents options for affordable, accessible childcare. She said the Green's platform includes free childcare for parents with children up to the age of three. 

Andrew West, who is representing the Green Party in Kanata–Carleton, told All In A Day it would be helpful for voters to see Schreiner on televised debates.

The party may be under the radar, but West said he's hopeful the Greens stand a chance of getting an MPP or two elected regardless. He said his own riding might be a perfect storm for sending a Green representative to Queen's Park. 

"We have a split conservative vote, two conservative candidates. Jack MacLaren is now running as a Trillium candidate and Merrilee Fullerton is running as a PC candidate. We also have an unpopular Liberal government," he said. "We're very well organized and positioned to actually go up the middle and actually win in Kanata–Carleton for the first time."