Ontario election interview: Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner
CBC News has requested interviews with the 4 main provincial party leaders contesting the June 2 election
Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner spoke with CBC's provincial affairs reporter Mike Crawley. CBC News has requested interviews with the leaders of all four major parties fielding a full slate of candidates in the Ontario election.
Crawley: I've started off other interviews by asking people what would make them a good premier. But you've told me you aren't really running to be premier. Why not?
Schreiner: Well, first of all, I think I would make a good premier. And I think of all the leaders out there that are running to lead a party, I'd make the best premier because I have the experience, the vision and the policy priorities that align with what the people of Ontario want.
But I've also been honest with folks that to go from one seat to being premier would be a challenge. So the Ontario Greens, what we're trying to do is maximize our influence in the legislature. I think we've made a huge difference. Most people feel that we've punched well above our weight in terms of the influence we've had at Queen's Park.
And so, I'm really saying to the people of Ontario, What's the kind of province we want to build? Send me a caucus of Green MPPs to Queen's Park so we can build an Ontario that improves people's lives by maximizing our influence in the legislature.
Crawley: Just a couple of complicating factors with that. In some ways you're fishing in the same pool of progressive voters that the Liberals and the NDP are fishing in. So what differentiates you from those guys?
Schreiner: First of all, we have the most honest, ambitious climate plan for Ontario to meet its climate obligations, crush climate pollution in half by 2030, and be fully net zero by 2045, and do it in a way that positions Ontario to be the global leader in the new climate economy, which is one of the things that actually attracts more progressive-oriented conservative voters who recognize that we have to address the climate crisis and we can do it in a way that benefits Ontario's economy, generates prosperity, creates new career and better job opportunities for people.
But I would also say the Ontario Greens are leading on a number of other issues. Our housing affordability strategy has been described as a master-class plan in delivering the solutions that Ontarians need. And our mental health strategy, we're the first party to put forward a standalone mental health strategy in the history of Ontario. It's great that the NDP has copied many parts of it a month and a half later.
But the difference between us and them is that we were honest with people about how we would pay for expanding mental health under OHIP. The NDP still hasn't delivered a costed platform on that particular issue, even though they released it months ago.
Crawley: I'm interested to hear you say that you're also attracting conservative voters that have an environmental concern. What about the Green Party is appealing to a more conservative voter?
Schreiner: Well, I think you see that right here in Guelph. Guelph is a city that has a number of clean-tech and new climate economy businesses, and we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in all of Canada. I think we've shown that you can address the climate crisis, significantly reduce climate pollution and have a strong, prosperous, vibrant economy at the same time.
I think there's a number of conservative voters out there, particularly more progressive-oriented conservative voters, who don't like the fact that the current conservative movement denies climate change or certainly doesn't have any indication that they're going to address the climate crisis, and are attracted to a party that's going to be bold, ambitious and honest about how we can do it and do it in a way that benefits our economy.
Crawley: How much of a challenge, though, is it for you if this election is in large part about people's view of Doug Ford's performance as premier? There are some people who are motivated mainly by not wanting Ford to win another term. How much of a challenge does that then pose for you if people are concerned that they are, quote, wasting their vote by voting for the Green Party?
Schreiner: First of all, I would say there's a number of people who say they want to vote Green and maybe they're reluctant to because of the issue you've just described. But I would say, vote for the government you want. Otherwise, we're never going to get that government.
I would say one of the biggest criticisms of Doug Ford has been his systematic dismantling of environmental protections that really are about protecting human health and the places we love in this province. The fact that he's bulldozing highways through the Green Belt, paving over farmland and wetlands in a fiscally reckless way, forcing people into long, expensive, soul-crushing commutes. The fact that the Ontario Greens have been leading on those issues, I think means that voters are going to reward us for the hard work we've done over the last four years, particularly pushing back against Ford's anti-climate and anti-environment agenda.
Crawley: What is it about the experience of Green parties in other provinces that gives you hope for this particular campaign?
Schreiner: I think you've seen across Canada and actually across the world, frankly, that when you elect that first Green, it leads to additional Greens. So in P.E.I., Peter Bevan-Baker was elected and now they hold the official opposition. In New Brunswick, three Green MLAs are now in a minority government. In B.C., a perfect example of how three Green MLAs in the B.C. Legislature held the balance of power and brought forward pretty significant legislation. In particular, the Clean B.C. program was the most ambitious climate program of any province in the country, and that was directly influenced by those three Green MLAs.
Unfortunately, when the NDP called an early election (in British Columbia) and formed a majority government, they've now doubled down on polluting the liquefied natural gas industry and opening up old growth forests to logging, which I know so many environmentalists and just even people who want a cleaner province have opposed. It just shows you the influence the three Green MLAs in a minority government can have. We want to maximize our influence in the Ontario Legislature because we know we can then improve people's lives.
Crawley: So what would your ideal scenario be then in terms of what ends up happening after June 2 in the way of a minority. What's your goal?
Schreiner: Our goal is to have a Green caucus and have that Green caucus be a part of putting forward the vision and the policy plans that are going to move this province forward.
Crawley: But if there is a majority government, having a Green caucus isn't going to do anything for you. So rather than that being your only goal, isn't your goal to have an influence in a government in a minority, am I correct?
Schreiner: I wouldn't say so. I mean, obviously we could maximize our influence if it's a minority government, but I've had a pretty significant influence even with a Ford majority. So when Doug Ford said he was going to open the Green Belt for development, I led the charge and the PCs backed off on that. When Doug Ford said, "Hey, we're going to issue a ministerial zoning order to build an Amazon warehouse at the Duffins Creek wetlands," I led the charge against that. They backed off on it. When Doug Ford said, "Hey, we're thinking about expanding the Green Belt," they specifically said, "What we're going to look at is the Paris-Galt Moraine," based on my private member's bill.
So even in a majority government, if you work hard, you mobilize citizens, you can have influence. But obviously we could maximize our influence in a minority government because then we could leverage that into having more concrete and ambitious policy outcomes.
Crawley: Is part of your argument that if there is some kind of Liberal-NDP minority, and the Greens are a part of that, you can kind of keep them honest on environmental issues? I'm thinking of what you mentioned around the British Columbia situation.
Schreiner: Absolutely. I think if there is a minority government — and obviously that's something that the people of Ontario are going to choose, the kind of government they want — we can maximize our influence. The more Green MPPs we have means that we can leverage that to get things done for people to benefit their lives, to address the climate crisis, the housing affordability crisis, the mental health crisis that we're facing in this province.
Crawley: Your first opportunity to be on the provincial stage in the election debate, that's going to happen on May 16. How significant a moment is that?
Schreiner: We think the leaders debate will be a really important opportunity for Greens. It'll be the first time that a large majority of Ontarians will be able to see the Greens alongside the three old-line parties, and to see our vision and our values and the policy priorities we're putting forward to make life better in Ontario. We know that we've seen in other provinces where that first Green seat and then participation in the debates have helped lead to additional Green seats, and we're hoping we can capitalize on that moment here in Ontario.
Crawley: What's your tactic in that? Is it about going after the other leaders? Or is it just simply trying to present yourself and your viewers as an alternative choice to voters?
Schreiner: I don't want to give away all my debate strategies ahead of time. But I think Greens have earned a reputation. I think I specifically earned a reputation as somebody who spends less time attacking the other parties and talks more about how we can build Ontario up.
So I think for us, it's about presenting our vision for what this province could be. We could be the global leader in the new climate economy. We can address the housing affordability crisis. We can help people access mental health care. And the Greens have the boldest, most practical solutions to deliver on those issues for the people of Ontario. I'm looking at the debate as an opportunity to really present that vision.
Crawley: Is there any way, though, that the vision you just laid out is going to happen under a Doug Ford majority in the second term?
Schreiner: Well, it'll certainly be harder under a Doug Ford majority, there's no doubt about it. I mean, Doug Ford from day one in office dismantled Ontario's climate action plan, and has systematically been dismantling environmental protections. Some of those environmental protections were actually being brought in by previous Conservative governments. And so I'm going to continue to push back and fight back against that. Having more Green MPPs would certainly make it easier to do that. Obviously, the voters are going to decide what the next legislature looks like. But I guarantee you, regardless of the composition of the legislature, having more Green MPPs will make life better for Ontarians.
Crawley: I asked you that because you listed all your accomplishments under a Doug Ford government, and I kind of felt that you were leaving out, stripping conservation authorities' powers and cancelling cap and trade, and all of those things that he did that clearly were not pro-environment.
Schreiner:I think one of the biggest choices Ontarians have to make right now is that we are at a crossroads. The United Nations have made it very clear it is now or never to address the climate crisis and the no-measures from the Ford government will not get the job done. But the half-measures from the Liberals or NDP is not going to get the job done either.
We need a bold, ambitious plan that's going to crush climate pollution, help Ontarians save money at the same time, and make this province the global leader in the new climate economy. That's where the fastest growing markets in terms of creating jobs and prosperity are around the world. Let's do it here in Ontario. And that's the vision Greens are putting forward.
Crawley: I want to get into a little bit of the issues. What is it that makes your climate plan better than that of the Liberals and NDP?
Schreiner: Well, we're the only party that is putting forward a carbon budget that shows year-over-year, sector-by-sector, how we can crush climate pollution in this province. We're the only party putting forward a plan that shows how we can electrify transportation and buildings, which are the two biggest sources of climate pollution. And we have the most ambitious plan to set up our businesses and industry to be successful in the new climate economy.
We have a plan to train workers, 60,000 workers, free tuition in college and then a guaranteed apprenticeship to be able to transition into those new climate economy jobs. We're the only party that's put forward a plan that's that ambitious, that detailed, and that will deliver the results that people need.
Crawley: On electrification, are you pro-nuclear?
Schreiner: We would keep our existing nuclear plants in place. We've already invested the money in that. But we would invest no new money in new nuclear, and the reason being is we have cheaper alternatives. The price of wind, solar and water power are much lower than the cost of generating nuclear power.
Crawley: Is there enough available to actually meet the needs of Ontario? Because the demand for electricity is going to increase as this electrification happens.
Schreiner: So that's exactly why we can't shut down our existing plants other than Pickering, which is going to shut down anyway. But as we bring on new generating capacity, our plan is let's bring in the lowest cost, cleanest sources of generation. That is wind, solar, water power and storage. Why wouldn't we choose clean, lower cost solutions? And yes, we will need to increase electricity generating capacity in the province, but that's actually going to save people money.
So, for example, electric vehicles, I can fill my electric car up for $5, charging at home, $10 or $15 charging at a high-speed charger. Meanwhile, people are paying over $100 to put gas in their car.
So, if we can electrify transportation and not just personal vehicle use, but also public transit use, we can save the province money. And the money we're spending on energy, which right now we ship $25 billion out of the province, we can keep in Ontario, buying made-in-Ontario electricity that's clean, that's green, that creates Ontario jobs and prosperity.
Crawley: I also want to ask you about the housing plan. This is a housing affordability system. What is it that makes your housing plan better than the New Democrats? Because they have some interesting ideas and we haven't seen one from the Liberals.
Schreiner: We're going to clamp down on speculation in a way that no other parties propose, especially looking at those small number of corporations that are buying up multiple residential properties so we can have a level playing field for first time home buyers. Second, we're the first and most ambitious party to end exclusionary zoning and bring in as-of-right zoning, so we can build duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, laneway housing, tiny homes, secondary suites without having to go through a long development approval process.
And finally, we have the most ambitious plan to actually have the government get back involved in building homes, 160,000 purpose-built rental homes, deeply affordable, including 60,000 permanent supportive housing spaces with wraparound mental health, addictions and other supports to help people who currently can't find a home. No other party has put forward such an ambitious plan to work with the private sector, the public sector and all three levels of government.
Crawley: But the Ford government was making lots of noise about supply, supply, supply and speed up the approval process at the municipalities. Why is that not enough?
Schreiner: Their bill completely fails to do that. As a matter of fact, the bill that the Ford government brought forward, a number of municipalities are saying will likely slow down the process because it's going to lead to more appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal, which is going to cost millions of dollars and delay additional housing supply, which is one of the reasons we get rid of the Ontario Land Tribunal as well. So I don't know why the Ford government doesn't understand the urgency of the housing crisis. People cannot afford to wait for us to address this crisis.
Crawley: I want to close with a more personal question. So tell me what your upbringing and how your upbringing influenced who you are?
Schreiner: I grew up on a farm literally in the middle of nowhere, which I think established my strong connection to nature. We had a creek that went through our farm where I spent hours playing. I think it's one of the reasons I'm such a strong proponent of protecting water, protecting farmland and just protecting the nature that protects us and that so many of us love to spend time in.
But I also have a business background. I've started two local food businesses here in Guelph, and I've been a part of starting non-profit organizations to promote local food and farmers. So I feel like I bring an entrepreneurial spirit to government and to the building of the Green Party.
When I first started, the party had a half-time staff person and almost zero budget. And now we're getting ready to launch the biggest campaign we've ever launched. We have a huge complement of staff helping to run the party, an amazing group of candidates. And so I feel very proud of what we've built.
And I'll finally just say that the most important part of my life is that I'm a husband and I'm a father. I look at my two young daughters, and when I think about looking them in the eyes, I want them to know that I did everything I could to ensure that they have a livable future because we've addressed the climate crisis.
Crawley: What kind of a person are you? If your friends were to talk about you, what kind of guy is Mike Schreiner?
Schreiner: I'd say a person that somebody likes to hang out with. I tend to be somebody who loves to spend time, enjoying a craft beer with friends on a patio, for example. I love spending time in nature. So even when people call me about having meetings at my constituency office, I often times say, hey … can we just walk down to the river and have the meeting while we're going for a walk? Because I love spending time in nature. One of the things that I do every year that brings me so much joy is that my youngest daughter and I, for over 10 years now, we've gone on a canoe trip in the back country every summer.
Crawley: Algonquin? Killarney? Or do you move around?
Schreiner: Algonquin and Killarney are two of my favourites. I would say Temagami is probably my favourite because last year we went on a trip into Temagami, and for five days we didn't see another human being, we were so far, far back into the bush. I love spending time with people, I get a lot of energy from people and I really love spending time with people in nature.
- This interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.