HUNTSVILLE, ONT. — Mike Schreiner has built up a repute amongst political watchers as a likable, sharp and down-to-earth politician since he was elected as Ontario’s first provincial Green 4 years ago, and that perception made its technique to a vastly expanded audience this month when he made his debut as the primary leader of his party to take part in a provincial election debate.

“You’ll be able to definitely see a difference from yesterday to today, needless to say,” Schreiner said the day after the May 16 debate while knocking on doors in Huntsville, Ont., positioned in certainly one of the ridings where his party hopes to capitalize on Schreiner’s increasingly recognizable brand and nab one other seat within the legislature this June.

Residents honked horns, waved and shouted, “Go Green!” at Schreiner’s shiny green electric campaign vehicle. Individuals who answered their doors within the scenic waterfront town commended him on how he grilled his rivals over policy issues the night before.

“You probably did a darn good job,” one man told Schreiner at a doorstop. “You held Doug Ford to account.”

That’s a task that’s taken up much of Schreiner’s time as his party’s first-ever Green legislator. For the last 4 years, he’s been difficult Ford _ who’s running for re-election for the Progressive Conservatives _ on the environmental impact of the previous Tory government’s plans, including plans for highways and other developments.

“One among my primary motivations was to advance the climate agenda, and as a substitute of being on an offensive mode of moving the province forward, I feel like I’ve needed to spend a whole lot of my time pushing back against Doug Ford taking us further back,” Schreiner said. “But in some respects, which will have meant that having our voice at Queen’s Park was much more necessary.”

It’s still unclear if Schreiner’s growing presence on the campaign trail as a scrappy, sincere underdog will translate into more votes or seats for his party. But his well-reviewed debate performances appear to have rattled his opponents enough to factor him into their very own strategies.

Through the first debate on northern issues, other leaders remarked repeatedly that they agreed along with his points _ but Latest Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath later warned progressive voters against a “dangerous poker game” of voting for Schreiner’s party when asked about similarities between their platforms.

Schreiner’sperformance during TVO’s supper-hour debate that saw him take Ford to task over his pandemic response and environmental policies made such a robust impression that his name was trending on Twitter in Canada, and it even prompted an on-air endorsement from Ford himself. Within the midst of a volley between the 2 men, Ford described Schreiner as “honest and up-front,” and said he enjoyed working with him.

“You’re that kind of guy, you may put the political stripes behind you,” Ford said to Schreiner, repeating an outline that friends, colleagues and Schreiner himself often attribute to the Green leader and his approach to politics.

Western University political scientist Cristine de Clercy said it’s likely no accident that Ford, whose campaign serves to profit most from vote-splitting on the centre-left, would need to capitalize on Schreiner’s growing appeal to voters _ lots of whom are only now being introduced to the Green leader as a fresh face presenting his party for perhaps the primary time as a legitimate place to park their votes.

As a frontrunner, de Clercy said Schreiner has done well at broadening the standard Green platform beyond the environment to the touch on other issues like housing and mental health, and said his “impressive” debate presence last weekstruck the difficult balance of effectively criticizing his opponents in a “tough yet convivial way.”

“That’s difficult in politics, generally, to be credible and likable at the identical time, and he seems capable of pull it off,” she said.

Sean Yo, who worked as Schreiner’s campaign manager in 2018, framed the appeal of his former boss somewhat in a different way.

“I feel people want anyone that they will trust to really behave like an adult while performing some of a very powerful work of our society,” Yo, who’s aiding the Green campaign in other roles this yr, said in an interview.

“There’s a whole lot of words that get overused in campaigns, things like integrity and respect, and trust and civility and things like that. But all you’ve gotten to do is meet Mike and you understand immediately that he’s the actual deal.”

Schreiner, 52, grew up on a farm within the U.S. and later moved to Canada along with his wife, now residing in Guelph along with his family. He said Green priorities on the environment, social justice and improving democracy overlapped along with his own ideals when he decided to make the jump into politics. Before that, his background as a small business owner and within the non-profit sector helped him develop entrepreneurial skills which he said served him well in his efforts to construct the Ontario Greens right into a “viable party” during the last decade or so.

He’s also a tough employee, Yo said, noting that Schreiner knocked on more doors than any candidate he’d ever worked with during their history-making 2018 run in Guelph.

Since earning his seat _ an achievement that got here nearly a decade after he became leader of the party _ Schreiner has brought his ground game to other Green campaigns, including the successful 2021 federal bid in Kitchener Centre that saw Mike Morrice change into the primary Green sent to Ottawa by Ontario voters.

Some observers have credited Morrice’s victory to the shortage of a Liberal candidate within the race, but Morrice also points to assist he had from Schreiner, who was certainly one of Morrice’s first calls when he decided to run. Schreiner’s presence was instrumental on doorsteps within the riding, Morrice said as he recalled people often remarking that Schreiner’s provincial win in Guelph shifted their perception of the party as a practical ballot option.

“Having Mike here with us in Kitchener, I feel, really helped us exhibit not only that it’s possible to elect a Green, but what you get when elect a Green. You get someone who’s less partisan, who’s more focused on democracy and on our community’s priorities,” Morrice said.

In an interview earlier this spring, Morrice said he planned to return the favour and help where he could with Schreiner’s re-election bid in Guelph, with the leader expected to spend more time boosting other candidates of their campaigns this time around.

The party is targeting just a few ridings particularly _ University-Rosedale, where former environmental commissioner Dianne Saxe is running, and Parry Sound-Muskoka, where Schreiner said he’s seeing levels of volunteer support and community response that echo his successful 2018 campaign,for candidate Matt Richter.

Despite being the party’s only incumbent, Schreiner said he’s “not taking anything with no consideration” in his home riding of Guelph, where he’s still attending local debates, knocking on doors and listening to constituents’ concerns.

The momentum of his post-debate campaign hit a snag when he tested positive for COVID-19 days later, but Schreiner said he was still determined to maintain supporting candidates across the province remotely.

And while Schreiner is “laser-focused” on electing more Greens, gaining power was never the final word goal, he said in Huntsville.

“We’d wish to put people before politics,” he said.


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