CHRIS BUSH/THE NEWS BULLETINNanaimo-Ladysmith MP-elect Paul Manly delivers his victory speech last week, flanked by members of his family.

Opinion: Green Party win can change the conversation on climate

Greens aren't a one-issue party, but environmental focus worked for them in Nanaimo-Ladysmith

To alter a well-worn phrase from political strategy: It’s the environment, stupid.

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection victory of Paul Manly of the Green Party of Canada was one that has potential to have short- and long-term effects on federal politics.

Manly swept to victory with a relatively convincing vote margin, and so he has a solid, if short, mandate over the coming months. Nanaimo-Ladysmith on May 6, 2019, was a specific place and time, and a convergence of factors played a part in the Green Party securing just its second-ever elected MP. Manly says his party’s Vision Green policy book is “broad and comprehensive, and it covers a lot of issues,” and has notions on how to pay for those ideas.

But the Greens, especially in this riding, have successfully branded themselves as champions for the environment, and I think Manly’s messaging around climate action was the single biggest reason he was elected.

“Clearly the message is getting out…” Manly told the News Bulletin the day after the byelection. “Electing a second Green MP really shows a strong signal to the other parties.”

He said during the campaign that electing him would force every other party to reassess its environmental policies. That may happen. Certainly platforms are largely undefined right now as all parties are strategizing. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that federal parties aren’t interested in seriously reconsidering their stances on various environmental issues, and might feel that it’s more a matter of how they communicate their policies during a campaign. Because realistically, the major parties care about the Earth and believe the science of human-caused climate change, and just happen to have divergent approaches to creating sustainability.

“Canadians are really preoccupied about climate change,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when reporters asked him about Manly’s byelection victory. “I think as we see the rise of successful conservative politicians at the premier level right across the country who don’t believe in taking climate action, it’s going to be really, really important that Canadians pick a government this fall that is committed to climate action and that’s certainly the point we’re going to be making throughout the fall.”

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During the byelection campaign, Manly didn’t have to get into a lot of specifics around his party’s environmental policies, other than stressing that the Greens want to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and hasten a switch to renewable energy technologies. The Greens have specific global temperature targets in mind, but right now they can really only hope to influence targets, not legislate them.

A legacy that I would like to see come from this Green victory is the message – here in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, and hopefully nationwide – that in 2019, citizens expect caring about the environment to be a baseline. Yes, we’re willing to listen to overused phrasing about ‘clean, green’ economy/jobs/tech/whatever, but we’re also savvy enough to want to know more about what that means: specifics in how parties will create those jobs and support those tech shifts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that decimals of degrees Celsius matter, and so we want to see evidence from federal parties that those decimals of degrees Celsius matter to them, too.

Voting in a Green MP was historic. Now, if it can somehow change the conversation around climate, well, that’s when we can really start to make history.

-files from Canadian Press

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