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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Canadian Greens Vie for Votes

Air Date: Week of October 3, 2008

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Green Party of Canada candidate Elizabeth May. (Courtesy of Green Party)

On October 14th, Canadians take to the polls to choose who will take the reins of the federal government. Elizabeth May of the Green Party of Canada is making inroads with her campaign, despite efforts by other candidates to exclude her from debates. Support for Canada’s Green Party is on the rise but, as Deutsche Welle Radio’s Dan Karpenchuk reports, the jury is still out as to whether that popularity will translate to winning seats in Parliament.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: The environment is shaping up as the number one issue in the upcoming election - Not the U.S. election, perhaps, but Canada’s. On October 14th, Canadians go to the polls to choose a party to lead the nation. In two televised debates, climate change, energy and carbon taxes were discussed by leaders of five political parties, which for the first time marked the inclusion of a Green Party candidate.

Mainstream political parties had tried to prevent the Greens from participating, but as Dan Karpenchuck of Radio Deutsche Welle reports from Toronto, public outcry led to the inclusion of the Green candidate Elizabeth May.

MAY: To all of you who are disenchanted, dispirited, disappointed and disillusioned, this is the time for you to wake up and recognize that the leadership does not exist at the series of podiums you just watched over this morning. The leadership is the people of this country, because in a democracy the people are in charge.

[APPLAUSE]

KARPENCHUCK: Elizabeth May launches a passionate opening to her election campaign. She’s the leader of Canada’s Green Party. Although she didn’t have a seat in the last Parliament, she’s fighting personally for a Nova Scotia riding held by Conservative heavyweight Peter MacKay. But almost from the beginning of the campaign, the old boys in politics closed ranks in a bid to prevent her from taking part in a televised leadership debate. Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the major networks that if May is there, he wouldn’t be. He said she is really a Liberal and he does not want to face two liberals in the debate. Only Stéphane Dion, the liberal leader and an admirer of May’s said that she should be included in the televised debates. May herself was nonplussed. Tough and ready to scrap with her opponents in any forum, May is certain that she will be representing the Greens at the debates.

MAY: I think I’ll be in the debates, and I think I’ll leave it at that. I have a sense of the dignity of Greens across Canada and the importance of our policies and our ideas. I’m not a protester. I’m a leader of a federal political party that’s represented in the House of Commons and I have a right to be in the debates.

KARPENCHUCK: In the end, after a groundswell of public support for May through letters, emails, and people of all parties phoning in to talk shows, the prime minister and other naysayers changed their tune. There may be some fear there among the main parties who have held influence in Canada for decades. Polls suggest that many voters are considering the Greens as a viable choice for their votes. And even though the party will not form a government any time soon, there’s a possibility of it winning several seats.

[SOUND OF JET]

KARPENCHUCK: Oshawa is a small city on the outskirts of Toronto. It’s been a key battleground in the past between the Conservatives and the Liberals. It contains one of the biggest private sector employers in the country: General Motors builds cars and trucks here. But thousands of workers have lost their jobs over the past several years. GM is one of the many manufacturers in Ontario, the country’s economic engine, to be bleeding red ink. Here in Ontario, unemployment takes center stage in this election. The Greens are hoping that their idea that their environmental policies can provide jobs will persuade these voters to go green. And they’re hoping that Elizabeth May can bring them around.

[PHONES RINGING]

GOSLIN: Pat Goslin. Hi Mike. I was just talking to ….

KARPENCHUCK: Pat Goslin is a Green Party candidate here in Oshawa.

GOSLIN: I believe that the bottom line is the environment. And the economy goes hand in hand with that. There’s a future in green jobs. Green jobs are sustainable. There’s telecommunication technology, future pharmaceuticals especially with the aging population. Green vehicles, electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles and an increase in public transit that is necessary to reduce the carbon output.

KARPENCHUCK: Goslin is a retired schoolteacher who has campaigned for the Liberal Party. But she says Elizabeth May and her passion for the environment is one of the reasons that she herself is now a candidate for the Green Party.

GOSLIN: She’s amazing. She’s my personal hero. I’ve been reading her book on how to save the world in fifteen minutes. And she is very, very inspiring.

[SOUND OF VOLUNTEERS TALKING]

KARPENCHUCK: A few of the volunteers drift in to the campaign office to join Goslin. They’ve been out in teams putting up Green Party signs. The atmosphere here is relaxed, easy going. Joan McKnight is the campaign manager. She’s worked for the Liberals and the Conservatives in the past. Now McKnight says she too has been inspired by Elizabeth May, and she says it’s astounding the number of calls she’s getting from people, and visits from those who walk in to find out more about the Greens, young people, nonwhites, those from other political parties looking for change, and now even senior citizens frustrated with the mainstream parties.


Green Party of Canada candidate Elizabeth May. (Courtesy of Green Party)

MCKNIGHT: Well, the last election, all of the polls were pretty equal, so we don’t have an idea of who voted or anything like that. Why I think that it’s significant is because seniors actually vote. And they’re taking the time to come in to volunteer to vote.

KARPENCHUCK: In the last election, the Green Party captured about five percent of the vote. The latest polls put the greens at more than double that number, at about 11%. Many Canadians are concerned about the environment and climate change and are unhappy with the environmental policies offered by the old parties. Virginia Ervin is twenty-four years old. She’s been a Greens candidate in the past two elections, but she’s decided to sit this one out, preferring to work behind the scenes and help organize.

ERVIN: They have rallied the troops. We’ve invested our time, we’re getting out, we’re meeting people, we’re shaking their hands, we’re telling them what being Green is. And they’re enjoying what they hear.

[SOUND OF TRAIN LEAVING STATION]

KARPENCHUCK: Meanwhile, Elizabeth May recently began a campaign tour by train, opting for a more green approach unlike the aircraft used by her political opponents. On her whistle-stop tour, she’ll unveil the Green Party of Canada’s promises to the Canadian people which include a guaranteed livable income supplement for the poor, more money for research grants that focus on renewable energy and conservation, shift consumption taxes to environmentally harmful products and services away from income and products, and cut corporate taxes for each ton of carbon emission reductions. Of course she hasn’t said what this will all cost. The other leaders have backed up their claims with figures. So May will still have to prove herself to voters and make her case.

[TRAIN SOUNDS]

KARPENCHUCK: Dan Karpenchuck, Toronto.

GELLERMAN: Our story about Canada’s Green Party comes to us courtesy of Radio Deutsche Welle.

[MUSIC: Dirty Dozen Brass Band “Mercy, Mercy ME (the Ecology) from What’s Goin On (Shout Factory Records 2006)]

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Coming up: Things that go bump in the night: An owl and a biologist - a love story. It’s a hoot. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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Links

Green Party of Canada

To learn more about Elizabeth May, read her biography

Deutsche Welle Radio's Living Planet

 

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