The rhythm and rituals of a federal election campaign are nothing new for Bruce Hyer, but he’s getting a decidedly different reception these days on the doorsteps of northern Ontario.
“Now that’s a big change. Four years ago there were a lot of climate-change deniers And now … well, there are very few,” he said in an interview. “And the discussion is more about, what should we do about it? What will it cost to fix it?”
Hyer is one of several returning Green candidates who say the party’s newfound political momentum — bolstered by public concern about preserving the planet — has voters showing more interest in their pitches this time around.
Hyer, a long-time environmentalist and ecotourism business operator, defected to the Greens in 2013 after being elected twice under the NDP banner. In Thunder Bay-Superior North, he is trying to topple Liberal Patty Hajdu, who won handily in 2015.
Since then, a number of Green politicians have been elected at the provincial level, even forming the official Opposition in P.E.I. The federal party is galvanizing support with leader Elizabeth May’s uncompromising message that it is time to move rapidly toward sustainable energy sources to stave off the disastrous effects of global warming.
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At the same time, it appears the party — despite its name — is also shedding the image of a one-note outfit concerned solely with environmental issues. The Greens have long presented policies on a wide array of issues, from education to housing, but voters now seem to be paying more attention.
The party proposes tens of billions of dollars in tax increases, and nearly as much in increased spending. It would cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia and seek to ban autonomous weapons. It would decriminalize all drug possession. It would spend one per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product on child care and make all college and university tuition-free.
There’s a great deal there that isn’t directly related to the environment, and candidates say they’re finding potential supporters want to know more about what the party would do on such issues.
“A lot of people are asking me more in-depth questions about what the Greens stand for, what our platform is,” Hyer said. “I’m getting very specific questions on the platform _ I like that.”
Catriona Wright, the Green nominee for Calgary Rocky Ridge, notes a greater awareness of the party and its policies in the Conservative-held riding.
“We are seen, generally, as more of a contender this time,” said Wright, who works in marketing.
“People are aware that we exist. Whereas last time I think I was letting people know, ‘We exist, we do exist.’ ”
In the 2015 campaign, former journalist Jo-Ann Roberts ran as a Green in Victoria, and finished a solid second to the NDP, before moving to Nova Scotia to be close to family.
She’s running in the riding of Halifax, where the Greens attracted just over three per cent of the vote in 2015.
Donations are flowing in the door and about two dozen lawn signs are heading out each day, said Roberts, deputy leader of the party. Her campaign has some 200 volunteers.
“I feel an energy that wasn’t there last time, and I was in an amazing riding and we were doing extremely well,” she said. “It’s a huge difference.”
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Roberts welcomes deeper scrutiny of the party’s platform as a sign voters are taking the Greens more seriously.
There may be fresh energy and optimism, but a nagging question remains: Will the polls, which show Green candidates running competitively in several ridings, translate into more than a handful of seats?
Greens lament that in 2015 the desire of progressive voters to dispatch Stephen Harper saw precious support bleed to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the final days of the campaign. This time they want potential supporters to envision the Greens playing a highly influential role in the House of Commons.
Hyer asks voters to send him to Ottawa with the notion the Greens might hold the balance of power in a tight minority Parliament.
“I smile and say, ‘And then I can come back and talk to you and have a coffee, and we’ll decide how we’re going to run Canada.’ ”