Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Giving Sudbury Reasons to Vote Green in 2015

An abbreviated version of this speech (without hyperlinks) was given by me earlier tonight at the Sudbury & Nickel Belt Greens Holiday Gathering.

Thank you, Simon! It’s great to be here tonight at Sudbury and Nickel Belt Greens Holiday Gathering. Peddler’s Pub has always gone out of its way to make us feel at home – and what great service! This is a great venue for this time of year, a great place to come together in fellowship and in celebration! There’s a lot of anticipation filling the room – more so than I think I’ve ever felt at a Green Gathering. And I suspect it’s not because we’ve all finished our Christmas shopping and are just sitting back to relax waiting for the big day to arrive.

Our community has been thrust into the spotlight this week – the provincial spotlight and the national spotlight. When Sudbury MPP and my former City Councillor for Ward 1, Joe Cimino, resigned his seat in provincial parliament back in November, we were all surprised, and we knew that we’d be in store for an interesting ride. But – wow! This week has been a very interesting week in Sudbury. And an interesting week for the Green Party. So I’m glad that you’re all here this evening to share in the conversation, in the spirit of the seasons – Holiday and Election.

We are in for what is likely to be the strangest ride in Sudbury’s history, from an elections point of view. After just having come through two elections last year, the first provincial and the second municipal – where Sudburians spoke very loudly about the need for change – we’ve now got three elections on our schedule for next year – a provincial by-election to replace Joe Cimino – a federal by-election to replace Glenn Thibeault – and a federal general election in which we’ll need to do all that we can to hold Sudbury for the Green Party after winning the by-election!

To your ears, that may sound, I don’t know – odd? Unlikely? I know that as Greens we’re used to hearing from voters that they’d cast their ballots for our Party if they thought we could win – and often that has meant that we’ve been unable to convince them to give us a chance. It’s frustrating, but it’s a reality that Greens across Canada and around the world have come to accept.

But acceptance doesn’t equal complacency. Elizabeth May, for a while Canada’s only Green voice on Parliament Hill, has shown how the election of one Green can change the dynamics of political conversations inside the legislature – and outside as well. In British Columbia, Andrew Weaver has stood up to both the Liberal government of Christy Clark and the NDP opposition over matters of climate justice. And in New Brunswick, Green leader David Coon, elected just this past summer, is already driving the conversation on fracking.

Greens are showing that we are making a difference where ever we are elected. Having a Green in the legislature leads first to opposition parties paying attention to what we’re saying, followed by the media. And although communicating through the media has its flaws, I seriously don’t think anybody here this evening doubts that once your message is in front of the media, the conversation about it really heats up.

Just today, Elizabeth May announced that climate justice activist Lynne Quarmby – a Professor of Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University in B.C., will be seeking the Green Party’s nomination. You may not know Quarmby by name – but you’ve likely heard about her and her friends, family and fellow citizens who were recently arrested on Burnaby Mountain, opposing Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. When asked why she was running for the Green Party, Quarmby reportedly said, “I didn’t choose politics; politics chose me,” and “all of the other parties are pulling punches on climate change” and that the push for more fossil infrastructure in the age of climate change is a kind of “immoral behaviour” (see: "Kinder Morgan arestee Lynne Quarmby to run for Greens in federal election", the Vancouver Observer, December 17, 2014).

We Greens know and understand this, as do many of the good citizens in our community – including those who have said that they can’t support us because we can’t win. How many Andrew Weavers have to get elected to demonstrate that Greens can make a difference? How many Lynne Quarmbys are needed to instill in voters the confidence they need to cast a ballot for the Green Party?

Well, here in Sudbury we’re going to find out in 2015. Already, we’ve had Laurentian Professor of Economics Dr. David Robinson step forward to seek our Party’s federal nomination. Dr. Robinson – like me, and like you, I suspect – is concerned about the future. Not for himself – he insists that he’s past his prime, although I’m not so certain – he’s not concerned about his own future, but that of his children and grandchildren. He sees the issue of climate change staring us in the face, and he sees all of the old line political parties failing to act. Worse, he sees each of them, including the NDP, doing what they can to exacerbate the problems of climate change by encouraging the development of fossil energy over renewables. As an economist, Dr. Robinson understands the risks climate change presents to our well-being, and he knows that a starting point in getting serious about tackling this issue and creating the right economic environment for investment must be the imposition of a job - creating carbon tax!

Voters who are concerned about our fiscal, social and environmental well-being are turning away from the old-line parties. Many, unfortunately, are giving up all together, staying away from the ballot boxes in droves. Some, however, recognize that we Greens want to do politics differently – and that we are the only party willing to address some of the most important issues of our time, like climate change. And not just address it – but offer serious solutions which make fiscal sense. We Greens know that we just can’t keep throwing good money away on projects which have limited or questionable public good. That’s the way that NDP and Liberal governments have operated for too long. Yet here in Sudbury we see both parties scrambling to be the first to bring funding to town to build more roads like Maley Drive – roads we don’t need for growth which should be focused in areas where citizens already have an abundance of transportation choices. There’s been no cost benefit analysis undertaken – they just want our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to build something tangible – something that they can be seen to have supported – despite the long term costs, and questionable benefits.

Well, this brings me back to 2015. Here in Sudbury, we Greens are going to have the unique opportunity to make a case to voters that their votes won’t be wasted – that it’s finally time to vote their conscience and support the Green Party. We’re going to have our work cut out for us, though, but frankly there has never been a better time. With New Democrats and Liberals giving voters lots of reasons not to vote for them, the time is ours if we seize it. The time is right in Sudbury for the Green Party to make history in Ontario – voters can send our province’s first-ever Green MPP to Queens Park. Taking this action will change everything. It will allow Greens to hold Kathleen Wynne’s government accountable on issues like climate change, carbon pricing, protecting endangered species, and getting it right in the Ring of Fire. And it would mean that our Leader, Mike Schreiner, will finally be able to participate in the televised Leader’s debates in the next general election campaign.

The benefits of electing a Green MPP are pretty clear to me, and likely to you too. Heck, we’re in the choir. What’s going to be our chief challenge moving forward is making a case to Sudburians that this is the time to vote Green. As far as evidence-based arguments go, well, I think we’ve got this one wrapped up. But we all know that as humans we don’t always base our decisions on the best available evidence. The case we have to make to Sudburians will have to be made across a wide spectrum – one based on our shared values, hopes and aspirations for our community and for our province.

Some of those values – transparency and accountability – have certainly taken a hit in our community this week, with the announcement on Monday that a former Liberal candidate was told to ask for a job if he quietly stepped back from seeking his party’s nomination. And then we witnessed our NDP MP announce that he would be appointed to run for the Liberals – triggering a federal by-election. These behind-the-scenes machinations which affect all of our lives in this community – have gone on for too long.

Recently, the entire Liberal Cabinet came to town on the taxpayer’s dime – ostensibly to conduct their business in the field – but the day was topped off by an evening at the Caruso Club where diners had to pay $1,700 for chicken and pasta. I know that the Caruso serves up some excellent chicken and pasta, but I think the elites who forked out that kind of cash at Gerry Lougheed’s prompting were paying for something else – access to government. Access to a government that travelled north under the guise of doing business, but really to collect money from well-heeled and corporate sponsors.

The very fact that this Liberal government has failed to close the loophole which allows corporations and unions to influence our democracy speaks volumes about what their priorities are. Corporations aren’t people – they are not allowed to vote. Yet they are given opportunities to buy influence. We’ve seen how the Liberals have benefitted from corporate donations.

And yesterday’s Sudbury Star reports that the United Steelworkers are going to do what they can to elect a New Democrat. If USW is thinking about asking its members to go knocking on doors in support of the NDP, that’s one thing – I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that. But for too long we’ve seen unions pour their member’s dues into political parties, often without consultation. It’s a practice that has to stop – and we Greens are the only party talking about ending corporate and union donations to political candidates.

Let me say one last thing about the labour movement. Labour has nothing to fear in the Green Party. We Greens understand that labour rights are human rights. We have long expressed our solidarity with the labour movement. Our desires and aspirations have significant overlap with those of Labour. Many of us belong to unions and some of us have been active in the labour movement. Greens understand that climate justice and social justice go hand and hand, and that a strong Canada includes strong labour rights. Those who support the labour movement will find no reason not to cast their ballot for a Green.

(for more information the Green Party and Organized Labour, see Section 1.8 of Vision Green)

The fact is, we’ve got a very positive message to share with Sudbury. And that, unfortunately, might be to our detriment, as the focus of most election campaigns has been on negativity and partisan game-playing. Getting our message out in such a hostile media environment is going to be a challenge. Earning the media’s coverage has never been something our Party has excelled at – although here in Sudbury I think we do better than almost anywhere else in Canada, when we put our efforts into it. But relying on earned media only goes so far. The other parties win campaigns not because they have the policies – clearly, the don’t. They don’t win because they have the most internally consistent platforms. They win because they can find good people to do and say what their parties tell them to do and say in order to get elected. And they win because they can get their messages out through advertising.

If we Greens are to seize this opportunity to make a compelling case to citizens in our community – to bring Sudburians together and give them a reason to vote Green this time – to give them the confidence that their votes will not be wasted, because the Green Party really does have a very good chance of winning – if we are going to make this case to our friends, our families, and our co-workers, we’re going to have to do it together. You – every one of you in this room this evening – are going to have an important role to play in the success of our Party in 2015.

If you can help with the campaigns, that’s fantastic. We’re going to need people to make phone calls and knock on doors – and we’re going to make participating this way as fun as possible! With 3 elections coming up to contest – oh boy – we’d better put the emphasis on fun!

But campaigning isn’t for everybody, I understand that. Talking up the party, though, around the tap water jug at the office, at gatherings, and on social media – maybe there’s something you can do to help us out there.

And finally, of course no appeal for help from any political party can avoid that which we least like to talk about – and that which is so important to the success of local elections – money. Look, I’ll be blunt – I hate asking for money. I hate being asked for money. But your monetary donations are important – they are more important now than ever, with three elections on the horizon, and a real need to give the community compelling reasons to vote Green.

So, in the spirit of giving, if you can, please do – and if you can and do before the end of the year, you can get a tax receipt to apply to your taxes in a few months. We just ask that you write a cheque to the Sudbury Green Party Constituency Association, so that your money stays here and helps us elect Ontario’s first Green MPP.

We’re also going to pass around the hat tonight – not sure whose hat this is, but all of the money in it is going to go to the Sudbury CA – which means that you can give up to $25 in cash. If you’d like a receipt for your donation, please let the hat go by and see Pat Rogerson, the Sudbury CA’s Financial Agent, before the night is through.

(Here's just a little FYI to my readers: if you are eligible to vote in the Province of Ontario, and would like to give to the Sudbury CA in support of the upcoming by-election, please make out your cheques to "Sudbury Green Party of Ontario Constituency Association" and send them to the Sudbury Green Party CA, 107 Riverside Drive, Sudbury ON, P3E 1G7)

Greens, we really are on the verge of making history here in Sudbury. Even a really good show in the by-election will be enough to get tongues wagging in the same way that they were in Calgary Centre in 2012 when Chris Turner had his spectacular run. This by-election will allow us to build our support base, and get better organized for the federal election. It’ll also help voters in Sudbury get into the habit of voting Green. We’ll bring people and community organizations together so that they can proudly proclaim their support for the Green Party and fearlessly cast their ballots for our candidates.

2015 is going to be an exciting year for us. Thank you for coming out this evening, and thank you very much for your help with 2015.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

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