“It’s the left, against the right,
In a never-ending fight.
But one day we shall unite,
We are the Greens.”
The song echoed through Victoria’s Public Market Monday night as Elizabeth May’s Green Party launched its federal campaign with an underlying centrist message. For a friendly crowd of around 200, May and four other Green candidates made the case for their election through speeches, signs and at least two more folk songs.
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The rally served as an informal campaign launch — a more formal event is planned at a Victoria hotel Wednesday — and a coming-out for the party’s star candidates on Vancouver Island. As the party is poised to possibly break through in several ridings across Canada, Victoria and its surrounding area remain home turf for the Greens and they know it.
Monday’s rally began with Canadian folk icon Valdy, who sang about “Islander” identity before breaking into a song written for the election around the Green’s “Not Left. Not Right. Forward” slogan.
It ended with music, too, as the party recorded a promotional video of the candidates and crowd singing an incessantly catchy folk song “We Are The Greens,” which preached stopping tanker traffic and taxing carbon emitters. Prior to its recording, May could be heard calling for “anyone under 20 years old” to move to front in sight of the video cameras.
While some younger folks hung out on the edges of the rally throughout the night, the crowd was largely what people have come to expect from the Greens’ base — white, and 50+, sporting Green Party paraphernalia and shirts with phrases like “this is what a vegan looks like.”
They were loud, though, as May and other candidates gave speeches promising a “not left or right” alternative to the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP.
No platform yet
The Greens have yet to release a formal costed platform, but speeches hinted at the party’s key issues. Alongside usual talking points around climate action and stopping pipelines, May and the other candidates pledged universal pharmacare, decriminalizing illicit drugs and eliminating post-secondary tuition fees altogether.
“We’re not going to say ’oh we’re going to work on that after we’ve ensured we’ve gotten rid of Greenhouse gases enough that we survive as a people,” May said during one of her several speeches throughout the night. “We can do these things at the same time. Because they’re all urgent, they all require action and we all know how to think holistically and accomplish what needs to be done.”
“It is about health, it’s not about criminality. It’s about well-being,” Victoria candidate Racelle Kooy said during another speech. “We need to decriminalize illicit drugs. We need to treat it like the health issue that it is.”
Kooy, who is a member of the Samahquam First Nation, is being positioned by the party as a marquee candidate to join May and Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly in parliament. With the retirement of longtime Liberal MP Murray Ranking in Victoria, Kooy hopes to break through in B.C.’s capital. But it’s no sure bet — she’ll have to best former Trudeau advisor Nikki McDonald, Conservative candidate chef Richard Caron, NDP candidate and Victoria city councillor Laurel Collins and People’s Party candidate Alyson Culbert.
In an op-ed for the Tyee earlier this year, Kooy justified her decision as an Indigenous woman to run for the Greens.
“Frankly put, I plan on being a good ancestor for our future generations. What I was taught from my Secwepemc and St’atl’imc relatives is that we plan for the very long term, for ourselves as well as those who reside in our homelands,” she wrote.
This election is widely viewed as May’s last shot at breaking through on a national level. The 65-year-old has led the Greens since 2006 and was first elected to parliament in 2011. She’s the oldest federal party leader by a wide margin, and only managed to get a second Green MP elected for the first time earlier this year when Manly won a byelection.
A weakened NDP presents a national opportunity for the Greens. According to EKOS polls, as of Aug. 29, the party is polling ahead of the NDP nationally, with 10.4 per cent to the NDP’s 7.2. NDP members reportedly jumped ship to the Greens in droves in Atlantic Canada. And the Green Party has picked up high-profile candidates in ridings across Canada, including comedian Greg Malone in Newfoundland.
WATCH: Greens win Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection. Story continues below.
But the stronghold remains B.C., and particularly Vancouver Island where May, who represents Saanich-Gulf Islands, and the party’s other sitting MP Paul Manly, who represents Nanaimo-Ladysmith, make their home. Alongside Kooy, the party is also pushing key candidates in Cowichan-Malahat-Langford and Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, where David Merner jumped ship after running for the Liberals in 2015 to run for the Greens this year.
There’s no doubt that if the Greens stand a chance anywhere it’s Vancouver Island. But May is confident the party is also poised for a breakthrough across Canada this year, on the back of recent Green elections to provincial legislatures in Ontario, New Brunswick and PEI.
She says that while she can’t predict the battleground ridings, she feels the party has a chance east of the prairies, especially as the NDP’s support sinks in places like Quebec.
“We’ve got so many [ridings] where we’re showing huge promise,” she told HuffPost Canada in an interview after the rally. “In New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia ... In Ontario, Guelph is very winnable and Perry Sound-Muskoka and Kitchener. There’s some very winnable ridings there.”
WATCH: Jagmeet Singh Takes On Quebec’s Secularism Law By Taking Off His Turban. Story continues below.
“It’s clear that our base is Vancouver Island,” she said. “But we’re way beyond our base now. And once people see that Greens can be elected, it makes a person more favourable to voting Green.”
The debate on the abortion debate
The rally came on the same day May made headlines for controversial statements made on CBC’s “Power and Politics”, where she said she lacks the power to “silence” her colleagues on the issue of reopening the abortion debate.
In a statement Monday, Green Party spokesperson Rosie Emery said that it has long been the party’s policy that all women should have timely access to legal, safe abortions.
“Although the Leader does not have the power to whip votes, all Green Party Members of Parliament must endorse the Green Party’s values, including a firm support of a woman’s right to choose. There is zero chance an elected representative of our party will ever reopen the abortion debate,” Emery said in the release.
The topic was clearly on May’s mind at the rally, as she repeatedly doubled down on her pro-choice stance, referencing women’s rights in general and abortions rights specifically several times during her speeches.
“Women’s rights don’t get traded off because we talk about climate,” May said during a speech at the rally. “If someone says the climate crisis is the single most important issue to me because they’re Green, that doesn’t mean they’re wobbly on ensuring that every woman has a right to a safe and legal abortion. That’s a right and you don’t trade it off because it’s a climate emergency.”
After the rally, May said she “should’ve expressed herself more clearly” during the “Power and Politics” interview.
“Yeah, I could’ve answered it better,” she said. “But our position is really clear. I have always supported a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion.”
Who can participate in debates?
May also addressed controversy around debate scheduling, and particularly her exclusion from TVA’s French-language debate. Earlier Monday, she urged other party leaders to boycott the debate for excluding her.
“There is no excuse whatsoever for TVA to exclude the Greens, it’s outrageous,” she said. “There’s a lot of outrage and blowback over that right now coming from environmental groups and coming from other community leaders. We hope they’ll reverse themselves because it’s completely wrong.”
She also alluded to external pressure to withdraw from the Munk debate on foreign policy, citing the organization’s track record of inviting Steve Bannon to speak.
May says that if either Singh or Scheer drop out, she “have to reconsider.”
“I’m under pressure to back out of that one,” she said. “But I think more debates in general are better than fewer.”