Parties & Leaders

Sharon Labchuk

CBC Online News | Updated Apr. 30, 2007

Sharon LabchukSharon Labchuk has been an environmental activist on P.E.I. for close to 20 years, but this is her first run as a candidate in provincial politics.

For many Islanders, Labchuk is the Green Party. She has been active federally, running in two elections in Malpeque and serving as a campaign manager for federal leader Elizabeth May.

Provincially, Labchuk is taking on a party with serious organizational challenges. The party has no constitution yet and, with no mechanism in place for electing a leader, Labchuk finds herself heading into the election with the title interim leader.

Labchuk 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. These initiatives were relatively popular with Islanders, but a new campaign in the summer of 1996 brought a different reaction.

That summer, Labchuk led a leaflet campaign against pesticide use in the potato industry. The campaign was controversial - describing P.E.I. as a toxic playground - and angered both the potato industry, which felt farmers were being victimized, and the tourism industry, which worried the campaign would scare off visitors.

"All of the sudden there was a sector of the P.E.I. community that I wasn't popular with ... It was a bit of a turnaround for me. I didn't mind not being popular with elected officials or with corporations, but it was bit different when that happened."

Sharon LabchukBut Labchuk did not allow herself to be deterred. She left the Environmental Coalition of P.E.I. to found 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." Labchuk argued labelling the pesticides safe 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.

That same year, with the federal Green Party just beginning to attract some interest, Labchuk made the leap from activist to politician. She ran for the Greens in Malpeque, winning more than 1,000 votes. She also took on the post of environment critic for the party, continuing in that role until September, when she switched over to agriculture.

Labchuk ran again in 2006, seeing a slight drop in votes. Later that year, she further cemented her position in the federal party, acting as campaign manager for Elizabeth May's successful run at the leadership, and for May's impressive second-place showing in the November byelection in London North Centre.

Green Party Leader Sharon LabchukThis election will be Labchuk's first test in provincial politics. She has been leader of the party since it was officially registered provincially in 2005. While the Green Party is gaining in popularity on a national level, her home riding of Rustico-Emerald with its two major industries of agriculture and tourism, could give her a rough ride.

But electing an MLA, or even running a full slate of candidates, is not first on Labchuk's list of goals for this election.

"[We want] to establish a presence. We're a brand-new party. We want people to find out what we stand for in this election."

Large-scale environmental issue such as global warming come immediately to Labchuk's mind when she's asked about the issues for the provincial election, but she settles on an issue which is closer to home, and with which she has a long history.

"Locally our concerns revolve around environmental chemicals and what they imply for human health ... as well as what the consequences are on the soil and the capacity of future generations to be able to grow food."

In a province where the potato is still king, it's a message that could continue to be a difficult sell.


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Quick Facts

Born: Trenton, Ontario, Nov. 25, 1952.

Education: Some science at Simon Fraser University, horticulture at University Guelph. No degrees completed.

Family: Two children: Camille, press secretary to Elizabeth May; Bryan, student, Mount Allison University.

Occupation: Director of organizing, Green Party of Canada.

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