It ain’t easy being Green — at least, not in Alberta.
Online voting in the Green Party leadership race opened last weekend with almost 35,000 registered members across the country getting the chance to decide which of eight candidates will replace Elizabeth May. May stepped aside following the 2019 election that saw the Greens take only three seats nationwide and none in Alberta, where the Conservatives seized 33 of 34 seats to the NDP’s one.
As the vote takes place leading up to the results announcement on Saturday, four people who ran for the party in Alberta in 2019 weigh in on whom they support, what it’s like being a Green in the heart of Canada’s energy industry and what the next leader can do to try to win over Albertans.
Although each supports a different leadership candidate, they agreed that whomever the winner is, they must clearly articulate their vision for retraining oil and gas workers for employment in sustainable energy. The Green Party has said it wants to keep fossil fuels in the ground to cut emissions, including by ending subsidies to the oil and gas industry and opposing any new pipelines.
We have all these people who are very well-educated working with [non-renewable] energy. We could move into geothermal, into hydrogen, into solar. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on the potential.– Natalie Odd
Natalie Odd, who ran for the Greens in Calgary Confederation in 2019, received more votes than any other federal Green candidate in Alberta — 5,488, or 8.5 per cent of the vote, although she still finished in fourth place. Odd previously ran for the Greens in Calgary Centre in 2008.
She says she’s witnessed Calgarians become increasingly receptive to the party since her first run.
“We have an incredible opportunity in Alberta, because we have so much potential with other forms of energy.” she said. “We have all these people who are very well-educated working with [non-renewable] energy. We could move into geothermal, into hydrogen, into solar. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on the potential.”
Jocelyn Grosse, who ran for the Greens in Calgary Nose Hill, says the party should focus on repurposing orphan oil and gas wells for geothermal energy to attract support in Alberta.
“You don’t just exist to take all the oil out and it’s over. It can keep going,” she said. “Suddenly you have a sustainable job and something that’s [environmentally] sustainable.”
Rewarding to find the ‘few pockets of Green supporters’
Shannon Hawthorne ran under the Green banner in her hometown riding of Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner.
“Running in a rural community was a pretty tough challenge,” said Hawthorne.
“It was very frustrating at times, but also really rewarding to find the few pockets of Green supporters in Medicine Hat.”
Hawthorne had been working at a women’s shelter in Calgary but moved to B.C. in July — mainly, she says, because she was put off by the Alberta government’s cuts to social services under the United Conservative Party as well as what she feels is a general climate of intimidation against environmentalists in the province.
“Leaving Alberta was a no-brainer,” she said.
She says it’s crucial for the next party leader to effectively communicate how much green energy potential Alberta has.
Austin Mullins ran for the Greens in the Banff-Airdrie riding, which he said was definitely an uphill battle.
“Being a queer, 22-year-old Green Party candidate in rural Alberta can be very scary, but I did it and have no regrets,” said Mullins.
In order to expand the party’s appeal in such a traditionally conservative province, Mullins says they should emphasize their plans for retraining oil and gas workers in renewable energy, rather than opposition to pipelines.
Who they’re picking for leader
There’s been an ongoing debate throughout the months of the leadership campaign about whether the party should stay the course or move in a more left-wing direction.
With her support for astrophysicist Amita Kuttner, Hawthorne is firmly in the latter camp, arguing that Kuttner has what it takes to win over disenchanted New Democrats and others who feel alienated from electoral politics.
“They stood out to me right from the get-go, with their policies, with their commitment to youth engagement, their commitment to eco-socialism, social justice, equality for everybody and how that fits within the Green movement, particularly when we talk about the role that Indigenous communities play,” said Hawthorne.
Grosse publicly endorsed international lawyer Annamie Paul, who is running in next month’s Toronto Centre byelection for the leadership.
“She’s the leader I want for my children,” said Grosse. “We are supposed to be the progressive party. To me, Annamie represents that progressive face for that progressive party. Wouldn’t it be so powerful to have a strong black woman leading a political party in Canada. Isn’t it time for that?”
Grosse said she doesn’t want the Greens to be pigeonholed as a left-wing party, but is fine seeing them “moving a little more left.”
Odd says she supports David Merner, a former Liberal who joined the Greens after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in 2018.
He ran for the Greens in 2019 in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke in British Columbia, placing second to New Democrat Randall Garrison.
Merner worked in Ottawa as legal counsel for the Department of Dispute Resolution and the Department of Justice in the 1990s and early 2000s, which Odd says demonstrates his firm grasp of federal politics. It helps that he has an Alberta connection, having done his master’s in political science at the University of Alberta in the 1980s, she added.
Mullins publicly endorsed Yellowknife-based emergency room physician Courtney Howard for the leadership. Her lack of experience in electoral politics is an asset, says Mullins, providing a fresh face who will “lend her expertise to the party.” He said he’s skeptical about moving the party leftwards, but says the eco-socialists’ presence in the race is emblematic of the Greens’ “big tent.”
“We’ve always had far-left voices, right voices, centrist voices, and of course during the leadership race everybody just gets a little bit louder than normal,” said Mullins.
The other candidates in the race are Montreal-based class-action lawyer Dmitri Lascaris, Montreal-based lawyer Meryam Haddad, Ottawa lawyer Andrew West and former Ontario Liberal environment minister Glen Murray.
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