TORONTO — Ontario’s Greens are hoping to construct on momentum from their first-ever provincial win and grow their caucus of 1 this spring — or at the very least hold onto the seat they won 4 years ago.
Greens have grown into influential legislative forces in other Canadian jurisdictions. They make up the official opposition on Prince Edward Island, hold party status with three seats in Latest Brunswick and have two in British Columbia, where the party also wielded significant power for a time after forming a confidence and provide agreement with the NDP in 2017.
Ontario voters have been slower to elect Green representatives, however the party is entering this spring’s campaign ahead of the expected June 2 election on its strongest-ever footing with party Leader Mike Schreiner holding an incumbent seat in Guelph.
In response to Mark Winfield, a professor at York University who studies environmental politics, it’s not not possible for the Greens in Canada’s largest province to duplicate the trend seen elsewhere within the country, where two or three Green seats have handed the party an unexpectedly powerful role in government.
“It’s kind of an interesting moment for them,” said Winfield, who advised the party on their platform as a volunteer.
“They’re not going to win government, however it’s not inconceivable, depending on how their vote plays out and the way concentrated it’s by way of ridings, (that) they may win a handful of seats and find yourself holding the balance of power.”
Schreiner became the party’s first provincial representative in 2018 after constructing support in three previous runs for office. Since then, he’s stood out at Queen’s Park as an efficient critic on the environment and other issues, including the federal government’s COVID-19 response.
Those contained in the Greens’ provincial campaign efforts are quick to echo the assumption that Green successes elsewhere in Canada are scalable in Ontario. At a recent candidate mixer in Kitchener, Ont., Schreiner rallied the small crowd by invoking work done by counterparts in B.C., P.E.I., and Latest Brunswick, and saying his own party is “punching well above our weight” in Ontario’s legislature with himself as the only real representative.
“Imagine what we will do if the Greens on this room join me at Queen’s Park,” Schreiner said to enthusiastic applause.
Party campaign chair Becky Smit said Schreiner’s breakthrough was a game-changer and the party’s aim this time is to grow the caucus, noting that other Green parties in Canada “began with one” representative and grew from there.
Last 12 months, the party hosted Zoom sessions for volunteers that heard elected Green representatives from other provinces share the stories behind their successes _ all featuring themes of door-knocking, talking directly with voters and campaigns rooted in communities.
“It was fascinating and rewarding to listen to that it’s a really similar story in each campaign,” she said.
The Greens are running their biggest-ever campaign in Ontario, Smit said, with $228,803 raised in donations by March 2022 compared with $94,695 at the identical time in 2018.
“Places with universities” are a natural spot for the Greens to attempt to fire up support, Winfield said, as younger voters are likely to have more concern concerning the environment when casting their ballots.
The party is running star candidate Dianne Saxe, a former provincial environment commissioner whose position was axed by Premier Doug Ford’s government, in downtown Toronto.
There are also hopes to “grow from strength” within the region around Guelph, Halton Hills and Kitchener-Waterloo, where Smit said the party’s messages about strong communities resonates _ and where Ontario voters sent their first federal Green representative to Ottawa last 12 months.
Mike Morrice, who currently holds a federal Kitchener seat, cycled over to the candidate boot camp this month to offer a chat. He told The Canadian Press he plans to have a presence in Guelph supporting Schreiner’s re-election bid this spring.
Kevin den Heijer, a former provincial and federal Liberal staffer and public affairs adviser at Enterprise Canada, is less certain that other Canadian Green successes will be matched in Ontario. He said voters within the province are set of their ways with the three important parties, and this election will likely see the Liberals and NDP battling to win votes the left, potentially leaving little space for the Greens to crack into.
“It’s tough to not be too stark when talking about the possibilities of the Green Party,” he said. “Their ceiling and their floor for gains and losses are really each one seat.”
Den Heijer said the Greens could be clever to concentrate on re-electing Schreiner and reply to polling in other ridings if the situation looks promising.
The party’s recent concentrate on mental health issues _ on top of environmental causes like stopping urban sprawl, improving public transit and electric vehicle rebates _ can be a sensible move, den Heijer said, noting that the Greens can have an outsized influence on policy discussions.
“In the event that they can’t win votes or win ridings, they generally is a player in changing the conversation and the narrative of the election,” he said.
Tamara Small, a political science professor on the University Guelph, echoed den Heijer’s perspective that Ontario is a “tough nut to crack” for candidates outside the three important parties, but she noted that Canadians not see the Greens as a fringe party. If polls indicating a powerful Progressive Conservative victory hold, that might also help the Greens, she said, because voters may feel like they don’t have anything to lose by giving the party a shot.
Even in the event that they don’t win more seats, she said, the Greens will likely see any increase in support as a hit in a multi-election cycle strategy.
“They’re playing an extended game, which is: perhaps not this election where we’re winning the seat, but the subsequent election we’re inside 10 points to the one that won last time, in order that there actually are seats in play,” she said.
The Greens have hopes that repeat Parry Sound-Muskoka candidate Matt Richter is already there. The local teacher is on his fifth run under the Green banner, and by 2018 his support had grown to twenty per cent of the vote. This time around, the party sees a gap with the sitting Tory not in search of re-election.
“It’s really opened the doors for our message, and it’s being received tremendously well this time through,” Richter said in an interview. He said his party’s “straightforward approach” to the worsening housing crisis, transportation and climate change appears to be resonating with voters who’re frustrated with “getting rhetoric from the old-school parties.”
Richter said he’s keen to make history in his riding like Schreiner did in 2018. He hopes the fifth time is the charm.
“The momentum from one election to the subsequent has continued to construct and that’s inspiring and motivating by itself,” Richter said. “This time through, especially with the crisis level of reasonably priced housing, of our mental health of the people in our riding, and after all with the climate, I couldn’t step away. If anything it’s just empowered me to step up much more.”