This week Green Party of Canada leadership candidates held their first televised debate on TVO moderated by Steve Paikin. The 10 candidates debated a handfull of issues in a fairly cordial debate. It is safe to say that there was more agreement than disagreement but nevertheless there are substantial differences in both the policy and communications approaches of the candidates. Here are my thoughts on this first series of debates.
Addressing the ideological spectrum
All candidates were timid when it came to addressing if party should be defined as left wing. They either avoided the question or said the party should remain where it is now. Even left wing candidates shied away from advocating for a major shift in policy and focused instead on adjusting the messaging while insisting that the party is already left of center.
Andrew West was clearly the most conservative candidate in the debate and advocated repeatedly for “fiscal responsibility” while attacking the liberals for being what he considers to be big spenders and stated that as leader of the party he would refuse to support the idea of going into deficit to pay for the energy transition. He repeated several times that the objective should be winning and that in his opinion the only way to succeed in winning is to water down the party’s message and conform to centerist policies. At one point, eco-socialist candidate Dimitri Lascaris responded to Andrew West by declaring that “A country as wealthy as canada, that has a highly educated population, bountiful natural resources, fundamentally stable political and legal systems has the ability to invest to a far larger degree than we have up until now. You want to talk about fiscal responsibility? Is balancing the budget when you need to invest billions upon billions in a green transition fiscally responsible? Frankly, I think that’s fiscally irresponsible. We need to make the necessary investments to minimize long term costs of this extraordinary damage to our society from the climate emergency and if we have to borrow money at rock bottom interest rates or interest free from the bank of canada. I support that 100%”. To which Andrew West replied “If we are not going to be fiscally responsible people will not vote for us.” This was the highlight of the debate and Dimitri Lascaris showed that he is well positioned to counter the ill founded arguments of the party’s right wing elements represented by Andrew West’s candidacy.
Defunding the Police
Candidates were asked their opinions on defunding or abolishing the police. All agreed that there is a need for significant police reform in order to address brutality and systemic racism. Annamie Paul surprised many when she equated defunding the police to their outright abolition, seemed unwilling to call for defunding and instead called for a use of force database. Amita Kuttner, who’s platform calls for the abolition of the police took a more nuanced approach concentrating instead on defunding and diverting funding to other social initiatives. Meryam Haddad assumed and repeated her previous calls for outright abolition of the police but did not provide a clear timeline beyond explaining that is a long term goal. She said that since the RCMP was founded to push indegenous peoples into reserves that it is fundamentally racist and therefore must be abolished.
Dylan Perevall-Maxwell ridiculed himself by stating that police should hand out $20 bills to people of color that they stop as a means of compensation and as a way to make police think twice about stopping a person of color. This ridiculous statement did a great deal of damage to his campaign by severely discrediting his understanding and approach to dealing with systemic racism. I wonder how many people of color would trade $20 for being placed in the stressful, degrading and dangerous position of being stopped by the police knowing that they are more likely to be charged with a crime, brutalised or even killed. Meryam Haddad, a person of colour herself was visibly discontent at Perceval-Maxwell’s statement and got the last word by calling it “super racist.”
Carbon Tax vs Cap and Trade
Although there was much talk about cap and trade vs carbon pricing there was very little conversation as to what the carbon tax rate should be. Experts have said that a $200 to $300 per tonne carbon tax rate is what is needed. Glen Murray, who was minister of environment in the Ontario government when that province joined the Quebec-California cap and trade system which boils down to a less than $20 per tonne carbon tax declared that “no one is going to get elected on a 300 dollar carbon tax” and that “cap and trade is more electable”. As leader of the Green Party of Quebec I have always been very critical of our cap and trade system that was implemented by a right wing anti environment premier (Jean Charest) and which has not succeeded in lowering emissions or generating significant revenues for the energy transition. I find that Glen Murray – an outsider to the party, having recently jumped ship from the liberals to run in the Geen Party leadership race has done virtually nothing to distance himself from many of the failed liberal policies that he helped implement. If he wants to be leader of the Green Party of Canada he is going to have to be willing to advocate for more radicle solutions than he has in the past. Until he proves that he is willing to think outside the Liberal box Greens should think twice before supporting his candidacy.
Speaking and presentation
Most of the candidates spoke very well and managed to get across their ideas in the limited time that was accorded to them. Amita Kuttner brings a fresh youth perspective to the leadership race, spoke eloquently about returning the party to it’s roots, building a movement and going beyond the perception of being a one issue party by addressing issues of social justice in a more outspoken manner. Dimitri Lascais showed that he is able to take on the right wing of the party using economic arguments and his vision of a strong government that is there to take care of the people and the environment while advocating for massive investments in green infrastructure. Judy Green spoke well and talked about going after big emitters and big changes rather than small incremental adjustments. David Merner spoke of the need to implement the Green New Deal but continued to play from the center and avoided taking concrete positions on policy matters. Courtney Howard, an emergency room doctor form the Yukon spoke well and brought a healthcare perspective to almost all of the questions raised which could be instrumental in building support for the party following our collective experience with COVID. Meryam Haddad defined herself as a socialist but stopped short of calling for a major policy overhaul focusing instead on how the “not left nor right” slogan was a mistake because in her view the party is already progressive. She also scored points by discrediting the environmental record of the NDP. Annamie Paul repeatedly spoke out of turn and spoke more about GHG reduction targets than how to get there. Glen Murray’s political stripes as a former liberal were on full display and many of his answers on climate related questions were based on boasting about his record in the Ontario government – a government that made negligible progress in the fight against climate change. Murray would be better off focusing on his achievements as a progressive mayor of Winnapeg rather than his disappointing tenure as an Ontario Liberal cabinet minister. Andrew West made it clear that he is there to represent the party’s right wing but was unable or unwilling to defend his right wing policies themselves and continuously reverted back to the strategic argument that in order to win the party must moderate it’s message and position itself between the liberals and conservatives on the ideological spectrum. Dylan Perceval-Maxwell lost points for his comments about addressing systemic racism and departed from the usually seen political attire by foregoing the suit and wearing a black monopoly style top hat throughout the debate.
All in all the debate is well worth a watch. However, it is still early in the race and many more debates will need to be held if the membership is to get a clear portret of all 10 candidates in the race, what they stand for and how they will approach the federal leadership if elected by the membership this october.