For the first time in 15 months, a political rally was held live and in-person in Guelph. The host was Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner, and the guest was his Federal counterpart, Annamie Paul. The pair were kicking off a summer tour, and announcing their intention to work closely on a myriad of issues, but for Paul, she did not want to call this a pre-election tour.
“This is a freedom tour, for me and for all of us,” Paul said in a media scrum at the announcement. “I have been waiting for so long to be able to do this. There’s nothing that replaces the warmth of human connection, and that’s what this is about, I want people to get to know me and start a conversation. I’ve tried as best as I can on Zoom, but of this is going to be better and obviously much, much, much more special.”
The setting was the picturesque view behind the Boathouse where the Eramosa and Speed Rivers meet. The audience was mostly Green Party staffers and a few lookers-on, plus several geese and the occasional sea gull. Doing this in-person was new in COVID-adjusted terms, but the message remained vintage Green Party as the leaders promoted action on affordability, homelessness, mental health, and other issues that need desperate attention post-pandemic.
“One of the things that makes me so proud to be a Green is the way in which we holistically connect a variety of issues to address ways to make life more affordable, livable, and better for people in our communities,” Schreiner said.
Last week, Schreiner announced the Green Party of Ontario’s plan to develop more housing options including 100,000 affordable rental units and maintaining an affordable housing supply, creating 60,000 new permanent supportive housing spaces, restoring 260,000 community housing units, and investing $5 billion in green building programs. Paul praised the plan as one that the Federal Green Party can work with on a national level.
“The plan that Mike and the Green Party of Ontario have proposed is one that recognizes the interconnectedness of the issues, and one that recognizes that we are at a defining moment in terms of housing here in Guelph, in Ontario, and across the country,” Paul said. “We’ve been calling on the Federal government to work with us and all of the other parties to ensure that people have the help they need because the pandemic has made an existing crisis worse, and it has put more people into precarity.”
“Housing is a complex issue, it’s going to require all three levels of government to work together, and that’s something Greens do really well, collaborate across party lines and collaborate across jurisdictional lines to get things done to improve people’s lives,” Schreiner added saying that the Federal government needs to come to the table with money and a national strategy.
“The affordability crisis in housing really started to accelerate in the 1990s when both the Federal and Provincial governments pulled out of housing,” Schreiner said. “The fact that both the Green Party of Canada and the Green Party of Ontario are absolutely committed to being ambitious, comprehensive, and yet doable in delivering solutions to the housing crisis gives me a lot of hope, and a lot of optimism for the future.”
In terms of political talk, Paul affirmed her intention to run in her home riding of Toronto Centre, and not, as many people thought (hoped), in Guelph where ecologist Michelle Bowman is so far the only announced nominee to be the local Green Party candidate in the next Federal Election.
“I am absolutely committed to running a Toronto Centre and I absolutely believe that Greens can win that seat,” Paul said, adding that Toronto Centre riding tells her origin story. During a by-election last October Paul came within 10 points of beating Liberal Marci Ien for the seat that once belonged to former Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
“In just three weeks, we went from seven per cent to 33 per cent, and it was three weeks with only a virtual campaign,” Paul said. “Remember, there was no ability to do any door-to-door canvassing and all that usual kind of retail politics.”
Paul was also asked about the politics inside the Green Party since the floor-crossing of former Green MP Jenica Atwin and the follow-up questions about her leadership style a few weeks ago. The Federal Green leader tried to brush the question off saying that there’s always some turmoil in any Canadian political party as members debate and advocate for various ideas and causes. “If the standard was that every political party had to have their house completely in order before doing anything, then we would have a permanent paralysis in Canadian politics,” she said.
“That is a very high bar, particularly when you think about how motivated members are, how opinionated they are – as they well should be – and how parties have a responsibility to foster a variety of opinions, and a variety of differences of approaches to public policy, because that’s how you make good public policy,” Paul explained. “There is no question that the events of the last few weeks have been a test, but we are extremely determined to enter the next elections strong, unified, and I’m going to be touring as much as I can to help support our candidates.”
After the river-side media availability, Paul and Schreiner met with Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie and toured the new Guelph Sikh Society Gurdwara on Clair Road.