THE fifth provincial election win by conservatives in the past year carries with it the irony of the first-ever Green party official opposition. Prince Edward Island polls had suggested a truly historic result this week – the first Green government in the country. But polls have a growing tendency to be wrong and so there are now conservative governments in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and P.E.I. There are also 15 elected Greens in Canada and the possibility that a Green breakthrough of some kind nationally may be at hand.

There has been much analysis on the effect the Tory blue wave could have on Liberal fortunes heading into October’s federal election. Collective polling analysis this week suggests a Liberal minority but again, polling – especially six months out – is unreliable.

If the Conservatives had chosen, say, the capable Lisa Raitt to succeed Stephen Harper in 2017 instead of untested Andrew Scheer (on the indecisive 12th ballot) the Liberals might indeed be in trouble. And a third of the NDP caucus left politics after the party chose Jagmeet Singh as leader so that challenge too is questionable.

Neither leader has yet shown the spark to grab Canadians’ attention. Meanwhile, Elizabeth May, who has led the Green party for 13 years, is quietly forging her way to the forefront of new political thinking in a country where “politicians are all the same” is a common sentiment. With P.E.I. taking a chance on the Greens, can May capitalize on Canadians’ thirst for political change?

By its very name the Green party finds itself as a logical choice for Canadians increasingly anxious about climate change. The party that has struggled to show Canadians that it is more than its environmental core may be exactly what Canada needs as it confronts growing evidence of climatic disaster.

It doesn’t hurt May’s chances of fielding a strong team in October that Scheer and his provincial cousins hold varying degrees of apprehension if not outright denial about climate science. Most of them are challenging the federal carbon tax in court – the tax that big business and big oil largely agree is the best way to force reductions in greenhouse gases.

Tories don’t like to be forced to do anything, especially by government, and so we have the silly spectre of Ontario Premier Doug Ford threatening gas station owners with $10,000 fines if they don’t affix politicized stickers to their pumps to blame Ottawa for the 4.4-cents-per-litre carbon tax – a tax that will be rebated while he keeps nearly 15 cents’ gas tax.

Canadians increasingly see not only the crass politics involved in the climate issue but more important the need to tackle the immensely difficult task of moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy to a future of cleaner energy based on successful examples throughout the world.

But how do we move a country that is rich and deeply dependent on oil and gas to one that relies far more on solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and hydrogen power without hurting the provinces that supply the fuels that we currently rely on? That question is likely to form the basis upon which the next election is fought. It is worth noting that green energy sector jobs already surpass total employment in Alberta’s oil sands.

The Liberals insist they will work on both fronts at once – going so far as to buy a pipeline to save it while encouraging energy alternatives – but opponents in Alberta and elsewhere have successfully portrayed Ottawa as the enemy. It’s an “enemy” that leads the G7 in oil and gas subsidies.

Canadians who eschew the populist move to raw conservatism, who may be having second thoughts about the Liberals, and who may not be ready to trust rookie Singh in the prime minister’s office, have May and her Green agenda to consider.

CBC pollster Eric Grenier reports this week that the party is polling at 8.5 per cent nationally. That would give the Greens their best performance ever — if they can hang on to that vote until October. Grenier estimates that the Greens are in contention in as many as seven ridings across the country. Right now, May holds the only federal seat. Thunder Bay’s Bruce Hyer had one after leaving the NDP, but lost it in the 2015 election to Liberal Patty Hajdu.

Greens, though positioned between left and centre, can claim to speak to all sides of the spectrum. For example, while proposing reduced payroll and income taxes, they would maintain a competitive corporate tax rate. They would reduce employee and employer contributions to EI and CPP by a third and gradually increase CPP payments to 50 per cent of income received during working years.

As a practical matter May says Greens in Parliament will be respectful, never heckle and stick to issues, not personalities. That’s new. And there would no whipped votes – all MPs will vote their conscience, not what their leader orders. There is a lot more to Vision Green online, but if any party is poised to capitalize on climate concern it is this one.

May inherited important potential allies this week when 100 Canadian climate scientists, environment advocates, business owners and corporate executives said they want climate change to be the No. 1 issue for voters this fall.

The premise in their letter to Canadians is timely as 100-year floods return annually to eastern parts of the country where states of emergency this week have affected New Brunswick, Quebec and Ottawa. (Ford visited the flooded capital Thursday and sympathized with homeowners. Earlier, his government cut flood mitigation funding by half.)

The signatories worry that the political fight over the federal carbon tax has become a distraction from the message Canadians should be getting: that climate change is the key issue of our time.

Ford and Alberta’s Jason Kenney are trying to drag the country backwards, putting off the tough decisions needed to slow destructive warming of the planet. Leaders, including May and Trudeau, who understand what’s needed, need to hear from Canadians before it’s too late. The election is just six months away but the agenda is being set now.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.

(Originally published April 27, 2019)

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