Motivated Green candidates spread the word on climate action; but can they be convincing?
Photos by Isaac Callan/Green Party of Canada

Motivated Green candidates spread the word on climate action; but can they be convincing?

Nationally the upcoming federal election is being viewed as a turning point for the Green Party. With Leader Elizabeth May afforded an important platform once more on the debate stage and candidates named in nearly all ridings across Canada, polls suggest the Greens are on course for their best ever electoral result. 

However, mixed levels of competence and professionalism are on display from their campaigns in Brampton and Mississauga, where environmental messages still sometimes struggle to resonate. With some candidates clued up on local issues and ready to explain climate change to Peel, others are less prepared. From the candidate who had never used social media before, through to one running a “zero promises” campaign, there is real variety. 

Considering how the Greens are polling in Peel, this is hardly a surprise. With just over a month to go until election day, the party is recording support of between 7 and 8 percent in the 905 area. In Mississauga–Lakeshore (9.6 percent) and Streetsville (9.1 percent), the Greens are seeing their best results and sit in third place, ahead of the NDP, though not really troubling the Conservative and Liberal candidates. With relatively low chances of electoral victory in Brampton and Mississauga, the Greens in 2019 represent something of a protest vote. 

This reality does not seem to be getting the candidates down, as they make their case to voters. In fact, most seem to be treating the election as a chance to lay the groundwork for future ballots and to raise awareness across Peel Region of Green Party policies and the climate emergency. 

“I’ll be honest; I don’t think I am going to win, because it [the riding] has always been blue and red — but I have to try,” Cynthia Trentelman the Green candidate for Mississauga–Lakeshore — told The Pointer in an interview in Port Credit. “If I don’t try, then I can’t complain about the system we’re stuck in. If we don’t win, at least I know that I raised awareness. What is important for me this election is connecting to people.”


Cynthia Trentelman the Green candidate for Mississauga–Lakeshore


Christina Porter, who is running against Liberal incumbent Navdeep Bains in Mississauga–Malton, echoed these statements. Citing nephews and a niece under the age of 1 who will grow up in a climate-threatened world, Porter said: “You know what, honestly, no, I don’t [think I will win]. The reason I am running is not to get a seat, the reason I am running is to raise awareness for this issue.” 

The headline issue for the Green Party at any election in any year is the environment. And, now more than ever, the narrative is shifting towards climate change. With climate action finally part of the national debate, the Greens could have their most successful campaign to date. However, the reality of the issue has yet to hit car-happy Peel Region in a visceral way, unlike the Maritimes, for example, where recent extreme weather has provided a stark reminder.

With that in mind, Porter said that there were certainly still obstacles to be navigated while appealing to voters in the region. “People don’t see the impacts of climate change here in the same way as you would living in PEI or Halifax, and that does present some difficulty. I have to say that the biggest difficulty, though, is presented by Mr. Trudeau himself not doing away with first-past-the-post [a political reform promised in the 2015 campaign and soon after abandoned]. A lot of the time, people go into the election and they vote based on what they’re afraid of — not what they want.”


Christina Porter, the Green Party candidate in Mississauga-Malton


Norbert D’Costa, who is running for the Brampton North seat, spoke similarly of his frustration at the constraints Canada’s first-past-the-post system places on smaller parties. He explained to The Pointer the problems with tactical voting, before admitting he hoped the 2018 provincial election had taught people to vote with their heart. “If people can see that strategic voting brought down an unpopular Liberal government in Ontario and replaced it with a Conservative government which is despised even more, hopefully they will vote for a party they believe in — a party they want to represent them.” 

Electoral reform is just one of the promises party Leader Elizabeth May unveiled on Monday, Sept. 16, as she rolled out the Green Party platform for 2019. Other pledges included a commitment to a universal income for all residents in Canada regardless of employment status, something Cynthia Trentelman told The Pointer would lead to a better healthcare system nationally. 


Norbert D’Costa, is running for the Greens in Brampton North.


Trentelman described Canada’s healthcare system as more of a “sick care” system, created to cover over the cracks. She said providing a universal basic income would create huge benefits in more secure shelter and food and less stress on families, in turn reducing the burden on healthcare. “You create a healthier society because people are less stressed and are employed, meaning that they can dream about school or starting their own business. It all comes together. It is not a single issue. Sure, it is mainly about the climate issue, but that ... reaches out to all these other factors.”

Though universal basic income is a popular policy in some circles, others view it as pie in the sky. Key to the Greens’ attempts to win votes across Brampton and Mississauga will be their ability to tie their ambitious agenda to people’s everyday lives. Where some see climate change as irrelevant to them, Green candidates are tasked with explaining why a climate emergency affects Brampton and Mississauga, too. Where universal income is viewed as an untenable far-left policy, Peel’s candidates must try to change minds and win votes.  

Christina Porter has been knocking on doors in Mississauga–Malton, saying that the cost of ignoring climate change will have a direct impact on affordability for everyday Canadians. “I have had a lot of success on the doorsteps in Mississauga,” she said. “Here, what I find people are concerned about is affordability. And we have to talk about affordability in the context of climate change, because things are going to get more expensive. 

“Generally, when people talk about climate change, they talk about the costs of all the solutions,” Porter told The Pointer. “For example, how expensive their gas is now as a result of the carbon tax, or how costly retrofitting buildings would be. And what people aren’t talking about is how expensive it will be not to do these things. The price of housing in Mississauga right now is exorbitant. And that’s only going to get worse as flooding and extreme weather become more common.

“This is the debate that we really should be having,” she continued. “That’s what I would like; if I am elected, I would like to educate people on the problem which we are facing.”

However, where Porter is an articulate exponent of the Green platform with a strong knowledge of local issues, not all candidates seem to live up to that standard. 

In Mississauga Centre, Hugo Reinoso is running a somewhat unusual campaign. “My campaign is zero marketing, zero promises, zero waste,” Reinoso told The Pointer in an email interview, adding that “if we could solve problems by just passing bills in government, we would have the perfect planet. It’s not that rules, regulations and laws don’t exist, it is that our representatives feel the work is done once a bill is passed.” 

While Reinoso’s second point includes a vital insight — that elected officials should not move on from an issue once a law is passed — the idea of a “zero promises” campaign does little to boost the Greens’ image or alter the impression some may have of the party as a somewhat amateur operation. 

The contrast between candidates epitomizes the problem the Green Party faces at nearly every election. The central policy platform was once regarded as a marginal issue, characterized by veganism and cycling. The party was seen as well meaning but not taken particularly seriously by the majority of the electorate. In a winner-takes-all system, a vote for the Greens was seen as a wasted vote. However, now that climate issues have taken centre stage and have even begun to resonate in the urban sprawl that makes up Mississauga and Brampton, old labels could be holding the party back. 

This federal election, and perhaps the next, are crucial for the Green Party in Peel Region and beyond. An issue its candidates have campaigned on for years is now part of  the mainstream political discourse. Candidates must prepare for the same level of scrutiny afforded to other major parties and the responsibility that comes with that. 

If they are able to step up and answer the questions demanded of elected officials, this election could be looked back upon as a turning point for the Green Party. However, if they are unable to organize consistently professional and impressive campaigns across Brampton and Mississauga’s 11 ridings in the next few years, the moment will be gone. Instead, they will see their vote dwindle as the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP get serious about developing and carrying out comprehensive climate plans of their own. 


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Twitter: @isaaccallan

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