Maclean’s feature on Elizabeth May and Saanich–Gulf Islands

If you haven’t seen it yet, Aaron Wherry’s piece today in Maclean’s, Canada’s national news weekly, is worth a read. Wherry analyzed Elizabeth May’s decision to run in Saanich–Gulf Islands, and I was interviewed for the story. Here’s my quote:

Camille Labchuk, May’s former press secretary and now a member of the party’s federal council, is slightly less esoteric. Presented with the conventional wisdom that a riding such as Guelph, Ont., where Green support has improved over the last three votes, might make more sense, she undoes the notion with logic of her own. “In the last election, the Liberals ran the worst campaign ever in the history of the Liberal party, but Guelph still sent a rookie Liberal MP to parliament by a decent margin,” she notes. “Saanich, on the other hand, the Conservatives ran arguably their best campaign ever, and probably the best campaign they ever will run under Stephen Harper … yet Gary Lunn barely managed to hold on to his seat. There was a very strong anti-Lunn campaign, it just didn’t quite manage to crystallize enough around one candidate.” Both May and Labchuk arrive at approximately the same conclusion. “When you introduce someone like Elizabeth May into the equation, now you’ve got a rallying point,” says Labchuk.

Elizabeth MayAn elaboration of these points can be found in a post I wrote last month, but I would emphasize the point that Elizabeth May is highly appealing to a broad segment of voters. As her two previous runs for office show — where she managed second place finishes, shocking pundits — May is able to translate this appeal into support at the ballot box from those who have traditionally supported other parties. Harnessing this appeal will be key in her quest to represent SGI in Parliament, and I’ve no doubt she’s up to the task.

I must also point out that I fundamentally disagree with Briony Penn’s assessment that with “two strong women candidates running on basically the same platform, Gary Lunn’s going to laugh all the way to Ottawa again.” First off, the only thing laughable here is Penn’s assertion that the Liberal platform is in any way similar to the Greens. Uh, is she even talking about the same Liberals here? The Liberals whose leader Michael Ignatieff trips all over himself to declare his undying love and support for the tragic and scandalous tar sands? The Liberals who cannibalized their last leader (Dion) who actually did have some green cred? Briony Penn, get real. Penn’s comments are reminiscent of the usual garbage old-line parties will spew when confronted with the Greens — that we will somehow split the vote and elect Conservatives. If we’re going to tread down this tired old path, I would simply point out that Elizabeth May’s two second place finishes would actually indicate, under that logic, that it’s other parties who “split the vote”.

At any rate, I’m incredibly excited that May’s  announcement has been made, and that the Green Party is dedicated to electing our leader. From what I hear from friends and colleagues in the riding, the response to her announcement (and the pre-announcement hints all summer) has generated a tremendous amount of excitement and enthusiasm for her candidacy. This is no surprise — SGI is already one of the (small-g) greenest ridings in the country. After the next election, I hope to be able to say it’s the (capital-G) Greenest riding in Canada

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It’s official: Elizabeth May chooses Saanich–Gulf Islands

This will be a brief post, as I’m currently enjoying my first day of law school, but I couldn’t resist expressing my excitement that Elizabeth May made it official today by announcing that she will run in Saanich–Gulf Islands in the next federal election.

Yay!!! For reasons I outlined in a previous post, I think this riding is a excellent choice and offers May the best chance of being elected. Now it’s time to pull together and do everything we can to send her to Parliament.

More to come soon, and apologies for not including links in this post — it’s my first time using the iPhone Wordpress application and I haven’t figured that part out yet.

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My letter is published in Globe today

My response to Jeffrey Simpson’s ridiculous column on the leaders’ debates appears in the Globe and Mail today, as does a letter from Green activist Louis Bertrand. You can read both letters here. Here’s mine:

Excluding the Greens, NDP and Bloc from the televised leaders’ debates is ill-conceived, anti-democratic and limiting to free speech. When the media and political elites tried to keep Elizabeth May from debating in the last election, Canadians were outraged. You can bet this effect would be amplified should the broadcast consortium ever follow this bad advice to give exclusive debate air time to the leaders of the two largest parties.

With voter turnout at record lows, we must look for ways to interest Canadians in politics. Excluding relevant voices from the leaders’ debates will guarantee that even more voters will change the channel, and will further disenfranchise the those who support parties other than the Liberals or Conservatives.

Camille Labchuk, Toronto

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Jeffrey Simpson: enemy of free speech and democracy?

It was with much disgust that I woke up to an ironically-titled Jeffrey Simpson column in today’s Globe and Mail: Set the table right for a meaningful debate. Bizarrely, Simpson argues the Green Party — and Bloc and NDP, for that matter — should be excluded from the televised leaders’ debates that take place each election. Simpson would prefer the debates be reformatted to exclude all but the two largest political parties. His argument is as follows:

Ultimately, elections are about who will govern us, and there were only two leaders, realistically speaking, who were going to do that. The same will be true this time. Either Stephen Harper or Michael Ignatieff will be prime minister. Any pretensions from another leader about becoming prime minister are ridiculous.

With these words, Simpson displays (willful?) ignorance with respect to both the role media coverage plays in determining electoral outcomes, and how our Parliamentary democracy actually functions. In fact, two-party rule in Canada is perpetuated by the media portrayal of our political culture as one where either the Liberals or Conservatives must win the election. Shutting out all voices but the leaders of said parties merely reinforces the existing paradigm, as does Simpson’s statement that another leader becoming PM is “ridiculous”.

But more importantly, elections are NOT simply about selecting a government. As Canada is a parliamentary democracy, elections are about selecting a parliament, which then chooses the government. All MPs contribute to the direction taken by our country on matters large and small — especially in this era of minority governments. Canadians don’t vote for governing parties, we vote for individual MPs, and if we followed Simpson’s ill-conceived plan to shut out smaller parties from leaders’ debates, we would be depriving Canadians of the information they need to make informed decisions on the only vote each of us has — the vote for our individual MP.

Simpson continues,

Of course, some people who support marginal parties will scream, claiming equality, equality, equality. But what’s fair about allowing a party with no seats, or 10 per cent of the popular vote, to receive the same exposure to viewers/voters as parties with more than 100 seats, or 150 seats, and almost 40 per cent of the vote?

What’s fair about presenting only part of the story to Canadians? Smaller parties struggle throughout (and between) election campaigns for media exposure, thanks in part to biased journalism, and the leaders’ debates are presently the only forum where they are given equal air time. A flourishing democracy depends on an informed electorate, but Simpson’s anti-democratic, free speech-censoring notion would guarantee an less informed electorate. There’s certainly unfairness in election coverage, but it’s not found in allowing all parties to debate.

Finally, Canadians are becoming increasingly disillusioned with politics, with many of us not even bothering to vote. Voter turnout dropped to a disturbing 59% in the last election, and we must do better. Excluding voices from the political dialogue during an election is no way to get people excited about politics — doing so would serve only to further disenfranchise the many voters who may consider supporting parties other than the Liberals or Conservatives, and won’t even bother watching a show-down between the  leaders of those two tired, old-line parties. A debate without all voices isn’t a debate at all.

In the future, I hope Simpson will use his column space to promote ideas that enhance democracy, not ones that stifle free speech and turn even more Canadians off politics. When the media and politicians conspired to keep Elizabeth May from debating in 2008, Canadians proved they won’t tolerate unfair and exclusionary interference in the debates. And I, for one, won’t tolerate  from Jeffrey Simpson, either.

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GPO leadership race: not much of a contest

Mike Schreiner

Mike Schreiner

The Green Party of Ontario today announced that Mike Schreiner will be the only candidate in the party’s upcoming leadership contest, with voting to conclude at the GPO leadership convention in November. Schreiner faces only one hurdle at this point – besting the none-of-the-above option on the ballot. (I don’t think he has to worry.) Although I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Mike, his background as a community activist, small businessperson, and advocate for sustainable food systems is impressive, as is his work with the GPO. I’ve no doubt the party will fare well under his leadership.

But I must admit that, for a number of reasons, I’m pretty disappointed that the GPO leadership contest won’t be a contest at all. The excitement generated by a leadership race is ideal for bringing in new blood, boosting membership numbers and promoting party renewal, and it’s a shame the GPO will miss our on reaping these benefits. As we head into autumn, and as Ontarians begin paying attention to politics again, the GPO could have profited from the buzz that a contested race would have offered.

Apart from general elections, few events boost membership numbers for political parties like leadership campaigns. In fact, the provincial NDP and PCs in Ontario both saw huge increases in party membership during their recent leadership contests. I’ve heard both parties may have nearly doubled their ranks. The GPC’s high-profile leadership race in 2006  brought in oodles of new members. The Ontario NDP and PCs also received considerable media coverage for their leadership debates, contestants’ policy stances, leadership conventions, and so on. It’s unfortunate the GPO will miss these opportunities, and that an uncontested race may give Ontarians the perception that no one else wants the job — not a good thing in the eyes of the electorate.

GPO_Logo_07It was initially rumored that long-time Green activist Mark MacKenzie was considering a leadership bid, but apparently he has chosen not to proceed down this path — too bad, as Mark is a great activist and his contribution would have been valuable. And it’s particularly regretful that the archaic GPO by-law G.2 actually prevented another willing leadership contestant from throwing his hat into the ring. Because of the requirement that leadership candidates be members for six months prior to being nominated, former Liberal candidate Steven Fishman was unable to enter the race, despite his strong interest. I sincerely hope this pointless by-law is altered at the next general meeting, as I don’t believe length of membership in a party has any bearing on commitment to party goals, or suitability for leadership. The GPO membership is more than capable of making these judgments as a race unfolds.

At any rate, despite the lost opportunities, I feel that Mike Shcreiner has a bright future as GPO leader and I’m confident he and the rest of the GPO team will be working hard to prepare the party for the next Ontario election. Congratulations, Mike, and good luck!

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Snakes on a plane! (Well, maybe just cats and dogs)

Today I finally left beautiful California and arrived in Calgary, to visit family and friends before returning home to Toronto to start law school. While confined on the airplane, I was was forced to inhale the nasty scent of a fellow passenger’s perfume. This occasion reminded me of the banner ads appearing on some of my favourite websites, promoting the Lung Association’s campaign for pet-free cabins on airplanes. Air Canada and WestJet both currently allow companion animals to travel in cabins, but the Lung Association argues that passengers and crew with asthma or other respiratory issues are put at risk by pet allergens, which may trigger reactions.

Pets on planes is a topic I’ve only ever considered peripherally, and most often while sitting at airports and watching cats and dogs cooped up in tiny cages. I sympathize with those who have allergies and other respiratory problems, but I’m frustrated that the Lung Association is ignoring the larger issue of fragrance-drenched passengers, and what their toxic perfumes mean for the wellness of chemically-sensitive travelers. As someone who feels ill each time I get a whiff of perfume, cologne or other scented products, I think focusing only on pets ignores the broader issue. Personally, I’ve never been on a flight where a pet is present, but pretty much every time I board a plane, I have the misfortune of being seated next to someone wearing scented products. I think scented product use is a bigger issue and I bet the millions of chemically-sensitive people out there would agree. (These fragrances are highly toxic and also contribute to our chemical body burden, but there’s a whole other can of worms.)

At any rate, that’s my rant for the day. The worst part is that it turns out the scented offender on my flight today was a flight attendants. Is it too much to expect that corporations demand employees who deal with the public refrain from dousing themselves in allergy-inducing scented products? The Lung Association should tackle this issue.

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Harper’s new Senate appointments disappoint

Word on the street is that Harper will send a whack of Conservative Party insiders to the red chamber tomorrow, including Conservative campaign manager Doug Finley, party president Don Plett, and long-time communications aide Carolyn Stewart-Olsen. This follows his last Senate-spree in December, when he rewarded 18 good Conservatives with what might be the best Christmas present ever. The common qualification possessed by many of the this week’s likely appointees appears to be an undying loyalty to Harper.

Of  the names being tossed about this morning, none disgusts me more than Doug Finley. The Machiavellian campaign operative is a master of subverting democracy – both internally, in the Conservative Party, where he controls nomination procedures with an iron fist and has been deeply involved in Harper’s centralization of power (read Garth Turner’s new book “Sheeple” to learn more), and externally, when it comes to matters pertaining to governing the country. He was heavily implicated in Conservative efforts to spread misinformation on Canada’s political system during the coalition/prorogation fiasco last year. I can think of few individuals less suited to promote the common good while serving Canadians as a legislator.

But the real dilemma on my mind today is that I can’t sort out who I respect less — Doug Finley, or Mike Duffy (recall that Duffy joined the Senate in the aforementioned glut of pre-holiday appointments). The former, a campaign operative who routinely subverts democracy and twists the truth, and the latter, a former TV host who many believe abandoned all journalistic ethics during the last election in his “reporting”, while actively working to help elect the Conservatives. Indeed, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council found Duffy had violated journalistic ethics and that his election-time reporting was “unfair and unbalanced”. His reward for being Harper’s little helper? A Senate seat.

I think Duffy wins (loses?), but Finley gives him a run for his money.

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Stuart Hertzog

While a final decision has yet to be made public, it appears likely that Elizabeth May will run in Saanich–Gulf Islands in the next election. It also appears that if she decides to do so, she will be challenged for the nomination by Stuart Hertzog, who has received a fair amount of attention regarding his plans to run against May.

Personally, I doubt that Hertzog will attract much support for his efforts, but I don’t mind that a contested race could draw more attention to the riding and to May’s campaign. But more interestingly, I think the situation illustrates one reason the Greens are fundamentally different old-line parties — we respect and value participatory democracy, and seek to promote active involvement of our membership in the democratic process.

As Pundits’ Guide explains, it is basically unprecedented for a leader to be challenged in a nomination contest. Should a Conservative, Liberal of NDP member ponder challenging their party leader, it’s likely that their party’s  operatives would shut down the situation without delay. I mean, consider the NDP’s recent policy convention fiasco. The party executive banned pro-pot delegate Dana Larsen because they disliked his efforts to make marijuana law a focus of the policy debate. Or how about the Conservatives, who have declared incumbent MPs safe from nomation challenges? I know many Conservatives in Calgary West are not happy that this anti-democratic rule prevents them from ditching the universally disrespected Rob Anders. Can you imagine what steps a party like the NDP, Liberals or Conservatives might take in a more high-profile scenario like the one the Greens may face? I doubt that democracy would prevail, and I doubt any member who spoke of challenging the leader would be allowed to stick around.

But in the Green Party, we do things differently. This is why the only comments I’ve heard from fellow Greens regarding Stuart Hertzog have been along the lines of, “Well, that’s democracy,” and “He won’t win, but he has the right to run”. And this is why cynical attempts to shut down- nomination challenges are the last thing on the Green Party’s mind.

So I applaud Hertzog for his commitment to a “grassroots, community-based, participatory democracy,” and I believe his planned candidacy for the SGI nomination proves that the values he cherishes are alive and well in the Green Party of Canada.

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Greens surge in BC as May considers Saanich–Gulf Islands

I don’t tend to place too much stock in any one poll, but Monday’s Harris/Decima poll is impossible to ignore. As the Globe put it,

“A month-long surge in support for the Greens in British Columbia turned that province into a four-way race, with the Tories at 28 per cent, the NDP at 26 per cent, the Greens at 24 and the Liberals at 20.”

Harris/Decima August 24But the most exciting aspect of these numbers is not simply that the Greens are riding high at 24%. The best part is that, as the Harris/Decima voting intentions graph indicates, this upward surge is part of a trend that began a month ago. And what else happened just over a month ago? Media began running with the story that Elizabeth May is considering running in Saanich–Gulf Islands in the next election.

It’s highly likely that this huge surge in support is related to May’s potential candidacy in the province, and it appears voters are responding positively to the possibility that she will run in Saanich–Gulf Islands. Although she has yet to confirm her intent to run in the riding, I’m going to take these polling data as a further indication that it’s a good idea.

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Council election results are in…

… and I have held on to my position as Ontario Representative on the Green Party’s Federal Council. THANK YOU!

The Council elections results are as follows:

Councilor at Large: Huguette Allen, Susan Stratton, Donna Dillman, David Coon, Dan Murray

PEI: Jeremy Stiles

NB: Burt Folkins

NS: Sheila Richardson

QC: Sameer Muldeen

ON: Camille Labchuk

MB: Michael Moreau

AB: Peter Johnston

Territories: Kim Melton

I’m looking forward to working with the solid team of incoming councilors. It is disappointing, however, that many strong Council candidates did not win, especially current Chair Kate Storey, whose dedication and insight have been unparalleled during her time on Council. It’s good news that six women were elected. I wrote about gender equity on Council last month, and although the incoming Council is still short on women, this is progress.

I’m impressed — but not surprised — that members have elected Council candidates who emphasize respect and cooperation, as opposed to those who seem preoccupied with settling personal scores and publicly badmouthing the leadership, staff and volunteers of the Green Party.

I applaud every Green who took the time to cast a ballot in the Council elections. A huge thanks to my supporters, and a round of applause for Robert Routledge, who also ran for Ontario Representative. Although I have yet to meet him, I’m impressed by Robert’s background and ideas, and look forward to his future contributions.

I promise to continue working  hard to represent Ontario Greens while on Council, while also focusing on preparing our party to crank it up a notch by sending a Green MP to Ottawa in the next election. We have a lot to accomplish, and I welcome your input. Please feel free to contact me anytime with questions, concerns, suggestions or ideas, at camille -at-

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