Every day is Earth Day for Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner
Photos Rick Drennan/TRCA/Wiki Commons/Twitter

Every day is Earth Day for Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner

The Green Party of Ontario held a caucus in Brampton on Wednesday.

It also attended a breakfast roundtable involving some of the top business minds in the city. 

It even met later with city leaders. 

But of course, “it” isn’t a party at all – not yet anyway. It is just one man, Mike Schreiner, MPP for the riding of Guelph. Last June, he won 45 percent of the vote and painted the riding and the legislature with a light brushstroke of green for the very first time in its history. He now sits in a sea of Tory blue at Queen’s Park. Some call him a mouse amongst elephants, but being the first of its kind is symbolic of a political movement that has finally found an official footing – however tiny the hold. 

Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner

He jokes these days that he caucuses with himself, all day, every day. He was alone too when he spoke before a blue-ribbon panel of business executives at the breakfast forum sponsored by ABB and the Brampton Board of Trade held at the Hilton Garden Inn. He rushed off afterwards to hold a one-on-one meeting with Mayor Patrick Brown later that day. 

His seat inside Queen’s Park is symbolic of something still being defined, but already some call him the conscience of the legislature.

He is not naïve about the ways his message needs to be sold to a public that, just like human nature, thinks largely in the short term. A cause whose benefits can’t be easily translated into more money in the bank account now, maybe a family trip to Hawaii or even better healthcare and education outcomes for everyone, is a difficult sell to many voters.

It doesn’t help when its fundamental message, that we can’t keep consuming in ways that demand the pollution of the planet, are challenged by those who deny the science because they and their friends make a handsome profit from consuming in ways that demand the pollution of the planet. They seem unconcerned about what’s happening on that planet, as long as their short time on it reaps the types of rewards many live for.

Schreiner knows the key to advancing what he believes in.

While Premier Doug Ford promotes his ‘Open for Business’ mantra, it’s too limited in scope, says the leader of Ontario’s Green Party. It must also be about creating jobs in a new clean and green economy. That means making our homes and businesses more efficient through micro-energy projects. Building the high-rises of the future in a different way. Everyone, he said, will one day use wind or solar panels or other solutions to create their own energy supply, cutting costs and easing emissions.

But the Green Party is also about extending its franchise. It wants to lower payroll taxes, unlock housing opportunities, bring greater access to mental health services, support a basic income, protect the air, water and farmland, install green transit, and put the province on the road to 100 percent renewable energy. 

Schreiner said the bottom line is this: we have no Plan B, and we don’t have a Planet B to escape to if we ruin where we live. 

His visit to Brampton was timely, and extra newsworthy. It came mid-week as the Ford government pulled $30 million out of the taxpayers’ pockets to launch a legal battle against the federal carbon tax. The province took its case to a Toronto courtroom, while Schreiner brought his case to the court of public opinion in this city. 

Schreiner thinks Ford’s litigation is “ill-advised” and too costly to the taxpayers, and besides, although the PC party scored 40 percent of the vote in the last election and won a majority of seats, there’s another 60 percent that also deserve to be governed based on their values.

There is a clear counter-movement to Schreiner’s. While growing numbers join his camp ­– The Green Party in P.E.I. leads in many polls ahead of this week’s provincial election there – leaders across the country, including Ford and Alberta’s newly elected Premier, Jason Kenney are charging hard to fight against those pushing a carbon tax to curtail the continuous build-up of CO2 in our ecosystem. 

Ford and others are challenging where federal powers end and public health concerns begin. This is the question being argued in the Ontario Court of Appeal over the federally-imposed carbon tax.  

Ottawa insist its law is an appropriate response to a vitally important issue. 

Schreiner calls carbon taxes “the price that has to be put on pollution.” The federal initiative came into effect April 1 and puts a charge on gasoline and other fossil fuels as well as on industrial polluters. It also features a rebate for the do-gooders. 

Schreiner said the Ford campaign to promote its position against the feds runs up against its own principles of government “not imposing” its will on the business community.

The PC government’s mandatory gas pump stickers trashing the federal carbon tax (a Tory-blue decal) will soon appear at every gas station in Ontario, under threat of fines of up to $10,000 a day from the PCs. 

Schreiner says this is draconian and the Ontario NDP has agreed, and has now filed a formal complaint with Elections Canada saying it violates federal campaign laws. 

Schreiner also bristled when a video emerged of PC members, including Brampton MPP Amarjot Sandhu (who has failed to appear for important community events and votes directly impacting his city, but clearly has time for photo ops with his massive SUV) gleefully filling up their gas tanks to further thumb their noses at the carbon tax. Schreiner told his audience in Brampton that he used his cellphone to video himself plugging in his e-vehicle into the wall at his home in Guelph. 

He isn’t shy about supporting carbon pricingHe said it finally puts a number on what we don’t want, more greenhouse gases, and a set cost for those who do want them. He also told his business audience if foreign countries import goods into Canada they will also be subject to a carbon tax to level the playing field. He then asked them to look at three of the most prosperous green economies in the world – Sweden, California, British Columbia – and know they all feature a carbon tax. It isn’t a “job killer” as Ford insists, he said, but a job creator. Bloomberg News said most forward-thinking companies have already put a price on pollution, and have a shadow cost on carbon. 

Schreiner hopes someday soon the public (and politicians) “will make decisions based on evidence not ideology.” 

While he is getting used to the Ford government hurling insults his way, and dubbing him a tree-hugger (and other things less printable), he thinks the business community is smart and even-handed and extremely practical. They now have choice, he said: “to look forward or backward.”  

He also charges that while the Ford government wastes taxpayer money in fighting the carbon tax, it cuts gas tax money to municipalities which impacts public transit viability, especially for students attending schools like Sheridan College in Brampton. He asked: “How can students get to class when cities offer up fewer buses?” 

The inability to see the long-term damage from short-term thinking on public policy is lost on the government at Queen’s Park, he said. Eventually, we all have to pay when it comes to the damage done from climate change – in severe disruptions after flooding, or ice and wind damage. The resulting chaos leads to higher insurance premiums. 

The Insurance industry in Canada now says that severe-weather related claims are pushing insurance costs to unsustainable levels. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, claims because of floods, windstorms, ice storms and tornadoes reached a record $1.9 billion in 2018, compared to about $400 million annually a decade ago. In Ontario this year, insurance rates have jumped 5 to 10 percent.

When the insurance industry, globally, starts to say the impacts of climate change are no longer sustainable, it’s not a ripple effect that travels across the entire corporate world, it’s a 1,000-foot wave (caused by human activity on the planet) that’s about to crash into an entire system of global enterprise.

From the financial sector to Silicon Valley, once the insurance industry, which underwrites the ability for commerce to take place, is thrown off its equilibrium, everyone starts paying attention.

But even without pressure from global giants who act as the safety net for every form of business, the private sector is beginning to get it.

Europe in particular is leading a green revolution, for example, with new measures that will assist the building industry there become global leaders in constructing not just energy-neutral structures, but ones that actually create excess alternative energy to be used by others.

Schreiner knows that going green means potentially massive profits for those companies smart enough to plan for the coming wave of change, who will make handsome profits while also innovating in ways that are good for the planet. The days of big oil companies greasing the halls of political power while exerting trillion-dollar influence on other industries that literally drove our dependence on carbon, are coming to an end.     

Schreiner thinks Ford and others in the alt-right, blind to these trends and the way more and more people (especially among younger generations) are thinking about our planet, have turned up the ferocity in their war against the natural world.

But there have been recent breakthroughs, too, thanks to public outcry. Late last year, Ford suggested developing some of the ecologically sensitive lands protected by Ontario’s Greenbelt legislation, using those lands to help ease the GTA's housing affordability crisis. Ford’s plans were caught on tape during his election run, meant to favour his friends in the development sector. He has been forced to back-off after public backlash made clear that he and his friends in the development business will pay the price if they lay their hands on The Greenbelt.

It gives Schreiner hope that his party’s message will increasingly find favour with the business community. 

The Green Party message is simple: to create jobs in the clean economy. It’s to make homes and businesses more energy efficient, and lower payroll taxes on local businesses. And of course, putting the province on the road to 100 percent renewable energy. Decades of inaction has not prepared our cities and towns well for extreme flooding, the kind that devastated Brantford, and was a constant threat in Brampton until a diversion was built after the war to ease the worry. Bolton, just weeks ago, was the latest community ravaged by flooding, but as 250 residents had to be evacuated when the Humber River flowed over its banks, news spread quickly that the Ford government cut half of the Ontario government’s funding to local conservation authorities for flood prevention initiatives.

Flooding in Bolton last month led to the evacuation of 250 residents

According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations backed initiative, the pressure is now on to drastically turn around the global emissions trajectory before unleashing irreversible, catastrophic climate breakdown. 

The argument that a lot of this isn’t man-made is displayed in the Ford government’s court fight against the federal carbon tax, and is morally bankrupt, said Schreiner.

He hopes the business world will soon accept what has been calculated as a $26-trillion global-clean-economy. Ontario can generate jobs and prosperity and also be an example to the world, he said. If we don’t, others will, and they will reap the profits as we all become part of the new economy they create. Canada can become part of the next Silicon Valley, or, like the technology economy based there, we can keep buying its smart phones and using its search engines and all its software, while sending the billions we spend straight to the savvy entrepreneurs who live in the San Francisco Bay area.

Schreiner decries politicians like Kenney and Ford who still believe in big oil and the old way of doing business, instead of recognizing that participation in the economy of the future requires bold moves now.

Those in attendance responded favourably to his pitch, especially when he suggested it was ludicrous to pour millions into re-doing the Darlington nuclear facility – a waste of taxpayer dollars that ignores innovation and a changing business model. “It’s yesterday’s technology,” he said, and calls it a “stranded asset.” 

The 50-year-old father of two daughters was back in the city where many of the best moments in his long business career took place. In fact, this was one of the hooks that caught the interest of organizers who reeled him as keynote speaker. In 1995, he was one of the founders of Wanigan Organics, a whole foods outlet that eventually won the 2011 Brampton Board Of Trade’s Business of the Year award. He’d moved to Guelph by then, but still retains a small piece of the company. He remembers fondly the excitement of running a start-up, especially in a business (organic produce) that was far ahead of its time. He travelled to farmsteads all over southern Ontario picking the best products for the new retail outlet near Kennedy Road and Clarence Street. He wants to bring that same can-do spirit of entrepreneurship to the Green Party.

He’s also excited about the prospects for greenies heading into this fall’s federal vote. 

Like him, federal leader Elizabeth May is the only member sitting in parliament there, and if voting totals only reached 3.5 percent in 2015, that was enough to keep official party status, and there were Green Party candidates in every riding across the land. 

Schreiner suggests that with Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in the anti-carbon-tax corner, and fellow conservative premiers eager to line up behind him in a push to oust the Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau (reeling from the SNC-Lavalin controversy), there has never been a better time for the Greens to grow a base.

In 2011, May became the first elected Green Party MP to sit in the House of Commons winning the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands in coastal British Columbia. She won re-election in 2015. There are numerous Green Parties around the planet, but unaffiliated with the Canadian and Ontario chapters. There is however, a mind-meld, and the green approach revolves around jobs, people and planet. 

Even the bastion of old-school conservatism, the banking world, is taking notice of the paradigm shift. Canadian Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, was active last week in telling global bankers they can’t ignore climate change dangers and have to brace for losses because of extreme weather and a changing economy. The obvious physical risks are there before our eyes, he said. “If some companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist,” Carney told the UK Guardian.

In other words, those businesses reliant on burning fossil fuels, do so at their peril. Carney said anyone – especially banks with billions invested in industries – that fail to see the movement to a cleaner planet could find themselves with a whole bunch of stranded assets. 

The need for “thought leaders” that recognize these new imperatives is crucial to future success. Schreiner fits that categorization. Ford, not so much.

The Guelph resident understands that 50 percent of the jobs in a new innovative and green economy haven’t even been created yet, and that’s why it’s so important that schools like Sheridan College in Brampton play their part as members of the Innovation Corridor that runs from Kitchener-Waterloo, through Guelph, Brampton and all the way to Toronto. 

Schreiner was born in the United States, but grew up on a farm, and through his work in the food sector, he knows that almost 100,000 employees and more than $20 billion in GDP is produced right here in Ontario’s food and beverage sector. 

“If we pave over this asset base, that is a real negative to us,” he told his audience, which sat around one big table, and interacted easily with the leader through a series of questions. 

He said that by paving over our earth, not only can’t it absorb the rains and the runoff from melting snows, but the costs associated with it. 

“Unless we do proper stormwater management, it puts a strain on our treasury,” he said. 

It’s a fiscal imperative to put down protections now to prevent catastrophic events like the hurricane damage we saw in Puerto Rico or the raging forest fires in California, and the recent flooding in Bolton. 

He said he’s met with people from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, “and they are freaking out…” about all this. He called the recent 50 percent budget cut to disaster relief by the Ford government, “very short-sighted.”

The Green Party’s vision for Ontario is fiscal responsibility, socially progressive action, and environmentally friendly platforms – a perfect mixture for future growth, said Schreiner. 

He also thinks it’s crucial that city’s like Brampton re-look at their priorities, especially in building design. This will up the ante when it comes to constructing cities of the future. While cars are the biggest greenhouse gas creators, buildings come in second, and building codes and designs have to reflect this new reality.

Some of this revolutionary change is happening in New York City, where legislators just approved a plan to combat future needs by making many large structures slash their greenhouse gas emissions. They want to see a 40 percent reduction by 2030. Is this a local version of the Green New Deal proposed by Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a rising star of the party? (Not one U.S. Senator voted yes on the Green New Deal) 

Schreiner said the trend will be toward micro and smart grids, where houses could include solar panels as part of the standard construction, or other means to capture wind or water power.

This, he said, is another reason why pouring more millions into the outdated Darlington nuclear plant makes no sense. 

Schreiner admits that the need for new capital instruments, especially venture capital, is most needed in Canada so it won’t be left behind. He also said one of the reasons why he likes to meet the public, and especially those in the business community, is to dispel myths about the carbon tax.

He called Ford’s move to deprive cities of the gas tax a significant broken promise from the election, and it will have a negative impact for municipalities, who will now have to download more transit costs onto the property tax base. Besides, he argues, there’s a rebate on the carbon tax that will favour those doing the right things for the economy and the world.

Mike Schreiner with ABB's Carolina Gallo, left

Carolina Gallo, vice-president of government relations with ABB, a Swiss-based global leader in robotics and advanced manufacturing systems, and a sponsor of the event, was in the city to visit the Brampton facility from the Canadian headquarters in Montreal. She was fired up after the morning chat. She said as a business person and a parent, it’s a critical time in the history of this country to do more beyond ideology and do something for future generations. ABB is teaming up with one of North America’s biggest bus manufacturers to supply the market with a new system for fast-charging of all-electric, zero-emission urban buses. 

After questioning who should contribute the funds required for a scale of change that is not only global in scope, but in the implication of damage if nothing is done, she told the audience, “cities are not equipped to deal with this global challenge.”

Schreiner agreed, and said finding partnerships in Canada has become a zero sum game.

If the schism developing between the province and the federal government is any indication, then much of the green movement proposals might get stalled in courts, as the Ford government hopes in the case of the carbon tax. 

“Climate change is simply nature’s tax on everything!”

The fact nuclear makes up 60 percent of Ontario’s power supply is worrying, said Schreiner. It’s costly, and a major reason why businesses are now looking for alternative sources of supply. 

The move to micro-energy will continue unabated, he said. 

Yes, the Green Party in Ontario (aka Mike Schreiner) is a mouse running around the feet of the elephants lumbering through the legislature at Queen’s Park. But small isn’t necessarily bad. It has the flexibility to alter its platform to meet the growing needs of not only the public, but the planet. 

Like bad air and lousy water, it won’t go away unless it’s treated. The same thing with public policy.

Schreiner’s visit to Brampton was also timely because Monday is Earth Day around the world. The 49th edition is both a time to celebrate change, but to worry that enough is not being done to clean up our planet. Numerous events will take place right here in Brampton.

That means there’s an appetite for doing better. The calls for a “green industrial revolution” are being heard around the world. The marches by protestors (including public school students) are taking place in hundreds of cities and dozens of countries. It’s all about meeting the challenge of climate change and eliminating carbon from our ecosystem, Schreiner said. These movements will continue whatever the result that comes out of a Toronto courtroom, or which party wins the most seats in the next federal election.

Schreiner knows the green movement has time and science and a changing demographic on its side. He also knows where future profits lie.

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