ANALYSIS: For May and the Greens, opportunity in this election they’ve never had in any other

Click to play video: 'Federal Election 2019: Green Party hopes to build on momentum in Atlantic Canada' Federal Election 2019: Green Party hopes to build on momentum in Atlantic Canada
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is campaigning in Atlantic Canada, where she's hoping to capitalize on her party's rising popularity in the region. – Sep 24, 2019

FREDERICTON — Of course we’re in an electric vehicle.

Would Green Party Leader Elizabeth May travel any other way?

For her tour of the Maritimes earlier this week, May travelled in a two-Tesla convoy, the leader in a cherry red model in front while aides and a Global News journalist rode in a silver model behind.

If May has her way, everyone in the country will be travelling in electric vehicles in a decade and the internal combustion will be outlawed.

The Trudeau Liberals have the same goal but their aim is to eliminate the gasoline power car by 2040 — in two decades.

“It’s a great goal, 10 years too late,” May said on Monday here. “Where were they for four years?”

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That, in a nutshell, is the problem Greens have with Liberals — not doing enough, not doing it fast enough, when it comes to fighting climate change.

“I would think whenever I hear (Liberal environment minister) Catherine McKenna say the environment and the economy go hand-in-hand, the image that pops into my mind of the hand-in-hand is Thelma and Louise at the end of the film. We’re heading for a cliff and, hand-in-hand with the Liberals, we’ll go off the edge. It’s not good enough.”

And, in this part of the country, there just might be enough voters that are ready to send that message to Ottawa — to hurry up and do more to fight climate change — by electing the first federal Green MPs west of Nanaimo.

Here in New Brunswick, voters in 2018 elected three Green Party candidates to the provincial legislature. One, the provincial party leader David Coon, is in the federal riding of Fredericton, where the incumbent is Liberal Matt DeCourcey. The two others are in the federal riding of Beauséjour, where the incumbent is Liberal Dominic LeBlanc.

“New Brunswickers had been feeling poorly served by the old way of doing things,” Coon said.

Indeed, whereas 95 per cent of New Brunswick voters picked either the Liberals or the Progressive Conservatives in provincial elections just a decade ago, in 2018, only about 70 per cent chose either of those parties, a clear expression of disgust with the political status quo.

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WATCH (Sept. 26, 2019): Federal Election 2019: ‘This party has never called for more military spending’: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

Click to play video: 'Federal Election 2019: ‘This party has never called for more military spending’: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May' Federal Election 2019: ‘This party has never called for more military spending’: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May
Federal Election 2019: ‘This party has never called for more military spending’: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May – Sep 26, 2019

“As Greens, we’re offering structural change to government, we’re offering fundamental change to how we do things with new ideas and a clear vision of where we want to go and part of where we want to go is remove that huge gulf that exists between government and its citizens,” said Coon.

The Greens, of course, are first-and-foremost motivated by dealing with the climate crisis.

But they believe that that is best done, as Coon said, by changing the relationship of government to its citizens. It’s a theme May comes back to time and again as she campaigns.

“We’re focused on one thing: better government for Canadians. And serving the interests of our children,” May said at an evening rally Monday in Charlottetown. “We are very, very committed to principle over power.”

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Some Liberals in Atlantic Canada are nervous about the power May has to charm votes away from them and to the Green column.

READ MORE: Youth rally around the world in global climate strike

Last week, at the potato farm of Lawerence MacAulay, the long-serving MP for the Prince Edward Island riding of Cardigan, a small crowd of Liberals had gathered on a bitterly cold, grey damp day for a rally with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

This was the day before all of Trudeau’s blackface and brownface revelations, but even still, Liberals waiting for the leader to arrived huddled around a wood-fuelled iron stove in MacAulay’s barn and muttered that they’d been disappointed in Trudeau’s first four years. His goofy India trip topped the list of the things that caused them to look down at the coffees in their hands and shake their heads. They said they’d still vote Liberal, but that mostly out of loyalty to MacAulay, who has been winning here since 1988.

(He and Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon are the longest-serving members in the House.)

These P.E.I. Liberals, though, were still recovering from the shock of their recent provincial election, when they were knocked from the government side of the legislature to third place and the Greens — the Greens! — were elevated to the official Opposition to square off against a Progressive Conservative government.

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Were those who swept away the Liberal government of Wade McLachlan by voting Green about to do the same thing to one or more of the island’s four Liberal MPs? Wayne Easter, the Liberal who has represented the federal riding of Malpeque since 1993, said that for the first time he’s more worried about the threat from the Green candidate than he is from his traditional rival, the Conservative.

WATCH (Sept. 26, 2019): How realistic is the Green Party’s fiscal plan?

Click to play video: 'How realistic is the Green Party’s fiscal plan?' How realistic is the Green Party’s fiscal plan?
How realistic is the Green Party’s fiscal plan? – Sep 26, 2019

And even if the Greens don’t win, they might peel off just enough votes from the Liberal column to let someone else be first past the post. That’s most likely to happen in the west island riding of Egmont, where Liberal Bobby Morrissey will need every progressive-minded voter to ward off a Conservative voter.

This is the phenomenon Trudeau warns against in his speeches — that this election is a choice between his party and the party of Andrew Scheer. Think about voting for anyone else and you hand it to Scheer. It’s a line of attack Liberals have relied on, often with great success in any number of elections.

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May will have none of that fear-mongering. She readily concedes she is not going to be prime minister after Oct. 21. And while the Greens are running candidates in just about every one of the country’s 338 ridings, there are literally just a handful where they have any prospect of winning: on P.E.I., in a couple of New Brunswick seats, in the Ontario riding of Guelph, at the south end of Vancouver Island and maybe, May says, in Kamloops, B.C.

If global movements like this week’s series of Greta Thunberg-led climate strikes help give the Canadian Greens some momentum, they might, in their wildest dreams, reach official party status in the House of Commons with 12 seats.

WATCH (Sept. 27, 2019): Trudeau meets Greta Thunberg before climate march in Montreal

Click to play video: 'Trudeau meets Greta Thunberg before climate march in Montreal' Trudeau meets Greta Thunberg before climate march in Montreal
Trudeau meets Greta Thunberg before climate march in Montreal – Sep 27, 2019

If they did that, they believe they would be facing a minority government that would be keen to secure their votes in exchange for adopting some of their policies, such as building the networks and clean electricity grids that would speed the rapid adoption of electric vehicles. The 2019 federal election is the chance they’ve never had.

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But for May and the Greens, there is dreaming and then there is the hard reality of campaigning without the financial and human resources the Conservatives, the Liberals and even the NDP can bring to bear to identify their voters and get their voters to cast a ballot on polling days.

Sophisticated database and fundraising programs? Marketing consultants and in-depth riding-by-riding polling? That’s for the other guys.

There is money for a TV spot or two but not enough money to buy time one during the popular expensive broadcasts like Hockey Night in Canada. Cheap social media advertising will be a big focus for the Green message but most of all, Greens rely on word-of-mouth and on their leader, May.

May, at 65 and just married this summer (to John Kidder, who also happens to be the Green candidate in the B.C riding of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon) doesn’t say it outright, but she would love it if this could be her last campaign as the leader of the party. She wants to continue to serve as the Green MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands for another decade, if voters there will have her, but for her, she’s crossing her fingers that a future Green leader is among those elected in Oct. 21.

READ MORE: Green Party unveils election platform pegged on addressing climate emergency

She will be difficult to replace. Her role in the Green Party is completely and utterly unique in the political landscape. She is not only a political leader but she also serves as grandmother, pastor, counsellor and best friend to the country’s Greens.

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“Well, we’re family and I love the candidates,” May said in an interview with Global News in Halifax. “It’s an important aspect of how we relate to each other, is that we actually do believe this campaign is run on love. It may sound flaky, but if you’re gonna keep working this hard every single day it’s better to be powered through knowing that you love the people you’re working with.”

At a rally in Charlottetown, she constantly interrupts herself in the midst of what amounts to her stump speech when she spots someone in the crowd that she knows. She’ll acknowledge the person by name and recall their last meeting before moving on. In Halifax, at the unveiling of their platform tax-and-spending measures (measures, it must be said, that were panned by former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page), there were tears as she acknowledged the work of a party policy person who, earlier in the year, had been diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It’s an authentic, natural style of dealing with the world, along with campaigning for votes, that is May’s all alone and, to many Canadian Greens, May is part of the reason they are drawn to the cause.

“Our young people are stepping up and out on their own initiative because it’s their future that’s at risk,” May said at the Sackville, N.B. campaign stop. “I’ll go to the wall for my grandkids. This is not an issue where we cave or compromise.”


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