Campaign 2015

An hour after Stephen Harper announced that parliament had been dissolved for the longest election of its kind in Canadian history, I was preaching at my church in Kleefeld. The next morning, bright and early, my small family headed out for a long-planned camping trip with my in-laws, the first camping trip my son Sam ever took. Determined not to let Stephen Harper’s irresponsible timing on this election ruin my summer, I spent a week in the wilderness: I experienced the natural world in a new way as I watched Sam experience it for the first time (canoeing, playing at the beach, picking up pine cones and watching squirrels); I read; and I thought about this campaign and the ways in which my campaign will be different from others. I will have challenges that candidates from other parties do not; but I will also simply do things differently, and these qualitative differences are one of the things that continue to inspire me to make a difference here.

Challenges

The previous Green candidate here in Provencher, Janine Gibson, liked to quote Kermit the Frog and say “it’s not easy being green.” It was a good ice breaker at public events, but it’s also true: there are challenges that Green candidates across the country are currently facing that their opponents in the bigger parties will not.

First, we’re starting with nothing. I started the Green Party Provencher Riding Association with one other person two years ago; before that, Janine was a candidate without a riding association for support. In contrast, the Conservative candidate in this riding has a dedicated campaign team that includes paid staffers. They have canvassed this riding from one end to the other, repeatedly, over the past century, and they have built up a database of supporters throughout; we’re only beginning to identify supporters in a systematic way, and as such have fewer supporters to help with that task. They have over a hundred years of history here, and we have only the past four elections – just over a decade. This is not sour grapes, we simply need to be aware of our challenges – we’re starting from behind. In that sense, the Liberal and Conservative parties of Canada have never actually been in this position: these parties are older than Canada itself, and were brought over to Canada from Britain by wealthy elites who, at that time, were the only ones who could vote. They’ve never had to engage in grassroots democracy to start a party from the ground up. In that sense, this actually becomes an advantage for Greens, because we can never ever take our supporters for granted. So often, when a party has power in their sights, they can forget about the people they exist to serve; a Green MP can never do that, because we know firsthand that community is so much more important than power, and so much more powerful than money.

Money is the next challenge. Coming from a smaller party, I have a smaller budget. To put things into perspective, in the last by-election (yes, even in a by-election) the Conservative campaign spent $83,542.19. The Green campaign spent $1,074.97. Only twice since 1993 has the winning candidate been out-spent by a losing candidate. In other words, sad as it sounds, the person who spends the most money tends to win. How can we ever expect someone to govern with fiscal responsibility when their initiation into the job involves working hard to out-spend their opponents? While our lower budget can be a considerable handicap at times, it’s also an advantage: we not only appreciate our resources more, but we get more out of them. The Conservatives may have 80x our budget, but they don’t get 80x our support. We make our money go further, and focus instead on getting to know our constituents and letting them get to know us. This means a lot less photo ops, lawn signs, and especially a lot less advertising, but it also means a lot less money…and a lot more time.

Time is a big challenge. Like most people in my riding, I work full time to pay my bills. This can make planning events and going door to door difficult. Many candidates are retired, or wealthy enough that they can take a significant leave of absence from work in order to campaign. The larger parties also usually employ campaign managers to manage their events, volunteers, and materials; I manage my own campaign, and rely on volunteers (who themselves have full-time jobs, families, and busy lives) for any help I receive. This often means that we all simply run out of time, and many good ideas end up half-finished, or never get off the ground. At the same time, I want to respect my volunteers; this means that I’m not going to push them to put in extra time, neglect their families, or give more than they are able. But I know that the constituents of Provencher are also busy, and don’t always have time to go to dozens of events or talk to canvassers at their door or on the phone either. We’re not here to be a nuisance, and I think people respect that. I don’t want to waste your time, and I certainly don’t want to waste my time doing it!

I’m not here to complain, and I’m not intimidated. These are the challenges that Green Party candidates face across the country. In spite of these challenges, the Green Party of Canada has received over half a million votes in every election since 2004, getting just short of one million votes in 2008. There are now three Green MPs, and Green MLAs in BC, New Brunswick, and PEI. The deck seems to be stacked against us, but we’re still growing, and it’s because we campaign differently.

A Different Kind of Campaign

Green candidates try to campaign the way we want to govern: responsibly, sustainably, and listening to the people all the way. That makes our campaigns different from the norm, in some very important ways.

First of all, campaigns can be incredibly wasteful. Ted Falk’s a nice guy, but he posted a picture on his facebook page of him standing next to two pallets worth of new signs, in spite of the fact that none of his information from two years ago has changed except that “elect Ted Falk” has been changed to “re-elect Ted Falk” on the new ones. The thousands of signs he used two years ago were wasteful in the first place just because of their sheer number (Janine rightly called them “visual pollution”), but the fact that none of them are being reused is incredibly wasteful. That’s not how we campaign: half of our signs are generic Green Party signs that were used in previous elections; the other half are new, durable signs that can be reused any time and anywhere that I’m a candidate. If I’m running in Nunavut when I’m 80, I’ll have these signs with me.

But wasted signs are also wasted money. A political sign costs between 5 dollars (for a small one) and 10 dollars (for a large one), and while I’m sure Ted gets a good discount because of the sheer size of his order, he’s still spending thousands of dollars on signs when he doesn’t have to. We don’t have the luxury of wasting money on new signs when old ones would have fulfilled the same purpose. For that matter, this government has wasted millions on putting up signs across the country telling us about their “economic action plan.” Greens campaign the way we want to govern, and we don’t want a wasteful government.

We also don’t want to waste our human resources. Our communities are our strength: the whole point of an MP is to represent a community, and Greens campaign based on community organizing. We work to connect with people and listen to what it is that they’re concerned about, because we recognize that responsible government depends on an engaged citizenry. What you think about issues, and what issues you think about, are the most important issues to me (so please, tell me what you think!). Most political advertising is parties or candidates telling you what issues you should care about, or claiming that their pet issues are the ones that Canadians truly care about. If you actually cared about an issue, we wouldn’t have to convince you of that fact with an ad. We campaign the way we want to govern, which means that we spend most of our time talking to people rather than advertising.

We also campaign with the long-haul in mind. Some people suggest that I’m crazy to run in such a heavily Conservative riding like Provencher, but campaigning here isn’t just about getting the most votes this time around. It’s about building support from year to year, election to election. It’s about having an impact on the conversations that happen during an election campaign. It’s about providing a way for Greens to speak out, with their voices and with their votes. Every Green vote puts additional pressure on the other parties to adopt the practical, innovative, and long-term oriented policies that we promote – and it’s working. You’ve probably noticed that Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau have spent much of their time talking about putting a price on carbon; Greens have been saying that for decades. Another major election plank this year is proportional representation – taken from the Green platform of more than ten years ago. Influence builds over time, and good ideas catch on; there is no limit to what can be accomplished if nobody cares who gets the credit! We campaign the way we want to govern, with long-term, sustainable growth in mind and an openness to working with others regardless of who gets the credit.

So, with all of that in mind, here is what you can expect from me this campaign:

  • I will begin putting up signs this week. I will have about 150 for the entire riding, all reused and/or reusable, and just enough to let people know that I’m here. I see no need to litter the highways with signs.

  • I will participate in any public event or forum. Feel free to invite me to your events, let me know what you care about, and even put me in front of people with a microphone and grill me; I want you to know who I am, and why I’m your best candidate.

  • I will be available for any questions or concerns you may have. If I can’t answer your question, I’ll find someone who can. If you have a concern you want raised with your MP, I’ll add my voice to yours.

  • I will save my money for the campaign methods that have the most potential to reach out to people. I’d like to make sure that everyone in the riding gets one postcard with my contact information, but I’m not going to spam you. I’m not going to flood the airwaves with as many advertisements as money can buy, but I’d like to make sure that nobody in the riding is surprised to see my name on the ballot.

  • I will continue to build community in this riding, and set up the riding association to have a stronger start in the next election. I’m not just in this until October 19th; I want to see our communities, and the Green community, thrive in the long term.

I’d love to hear from you. What issues are you concerned about? What do you expect from your MP? How can I help you? What events are in your community? You can reach me any time at jeff.wheeldon@greenparty.ca.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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Why I’m Green: Jeff Wheeldon

One of the things that we hope to do with this blog is give Greens a place to share their own journey into becoming a member of the Green Party, or supporting the Greens, or simply becoming more interested in sustainable living (because not all Greens are members of the Green Party!). I’ll start, but I welcome your stories – drop us a line, and we’ll publish your story about why you’re Green.

For me, “Why are you Green?” is a two-part question. The first part of the question is, why do you want to be involved in politics at all? Sadly, too many Canadians aren’t able to find a good answer to that question, and have stopped engaging in politics. I’ve certainly been there, struggling with the feeling that my vote doesn’t count or that the system is stacked against me. I grew up in BC, where we often felt that federal elections were decided long before our polling stations closed because the large majority of seats are in Quebec and Ontario; and I grew up in a generation that often felt like our parents (the baby boomers) owned the world and weren’t interested in our ideas. I don’t know how much I actually believed either of those things, but they were common attitudes in my area and age group, and politics sometimes felt like a senseless struggle to me. (One of the things that I hope to do as an MP is keep my constituents up to date with everything that’s going on in Parliament, so that it doesn’t feel like a senseless struggle to you.) But as hard as it is to get the millions of people across this enormous country to work together, the idea that politics is how we work together for the good of everyone is a powerful and important idea that I simply can’t ignore. We often hear people talk about “the government” as a “them”, but I think that’s a cynical view: government has to be “us”, or it’s completely broken. If it’s not “us”, then we need to work together to take it back.

So I can’t stand aside and let politics happen without me. As a voter, I had to make a choice of who would best represent me, and I would do that based on the candidates running; but as someone who wanted to be even more involved, I also needed to choose a party. Which is the second part of the question “Why am I Green?” I’m sure I could write a whole series of blog posts about this (and I may yet), but for now I’ll keep it to a few key points.

1. Respect for the Environment.

The Green Party is known for being an environmentalist party, and that term carries a lot of baggage. For some people it means that we’re an activist party; for others it means that we’re a hippie party; for others it means that we’re opposed to industry. None of these things are true, though I’m sure that there are members of the Green Party who hold some variations on those views. The Green Party’s stance on the environment is far more comprehensive and positive than any of those stereotypes. When I read Vision Green (the party platform) I discovered how comprehensive and integrated the environmental vision of the Green Party is, and it stood out drastically from the other parties’ approaches to the environment.

The other parties treat the environment as if it’s one issue. For the Conservatives, the environment is largely a resource to be used for our benefit. That’s true, but reducing it to just that one aspect leads to all sorts of environmental catastrophes, in which case environment becomes something the Conservative government has to overcome or balance with industry. That’s a false dichotomy that we can avoid by careful planning and smart industry.

For the NDP, the environment is the source of our health. This makes sense coming from the party that brought us universal healthcare, and I appreciate their attention to pollution and climate change, but it’s not much more integrated than the Conservative understanding of the environment: it’s one issue in relation to others, with which a balance must be struck.

For the Liberals, the environment is a jewel in Canada’s crown, part of what makes Canada…Canada. The environment is to be respected and enjoyed, with the wilderness an important part of the Canadian identity. That’s all well and good for rhetoric, but when it comes to policy they’re somewhere between the NDP and Conservatives, trying to balance a healthy environment with a healthy economy and every other issue.

These attempts to balance the environment, as one static issue, with every other issue we face won’t work. The environment is not an issue, it’s at the core of everything we do. There is not a single thing that human beings do that doesn’t depend on the environment. It’s not something to be protected as we invest in agriculture, it is agriculture – the soil and water and nutrients and climate in which we grow our food. It’s not something to be balanced with natural resources (as our current Cabinet does, with a Minister of Environment and a Minister of Natural Resources), it is our natural resources: air and water and trees and minerals and oil, and all of the ecosystem services that these provide when we don’t disrupt them too much. Yes, it’s foundational to healthcare: food and pollution are the two greatest impacts on human health – but it’s much more than that. And yes, our great wilderness is a treasured part of Canadian identity, but it’s not a jewel to show off, it’s where we (and trillions of other creatures) live, and it’s what supports our life in all of its aspects.

The Green Party integrates attention to and concern for the environment with every other issue because, quite simply, that’s reality. In a Green government there would be no need for a Minister of the Environment, because Green policies all take the environment into account. That’s smart, and it caught my attention. What clinched my choice to go Green, though, was…

2. Respect for Canadians and Parliament

About five years ago I read Losing Confidence by Elizabeth May. In it, she describes the Canadian political system as it was designed to be, and as it currently is; we’ve diverged quite far from the system that was created to govern our nation. The change happened gradually, and without breaking any written laws or rules. The result is that there is currently more power in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which originally was just the PM and a secretary, than there has ever been; that there are now distinct levels of power for Members of Parliament, with the Cabinet having a large concentration of the power and the PM leading the Cabinet, while back-benchers (both in the government and in the opposition) are often unable to effectively represent their constituencies; and politics has become dominated by partisanship, with heckling being a daily occurrence in the House of Commons, constant attack ads even outside of election season, and MPs being dominated by their party leaders through party discipline (also known as whipped votes). The combination makes politics into an ugly game played by elites, rather than a system for the representation of all Canadians. These changes happened, and continue to happen, through a lack of understanding of and respect for parliamentary tradition, and in turn it translates into a lack of respect within Parliament, and most of all a lack of respect for Canadians who are no longer properly represented and increasingly disenfranchised. Unfortunately, these things have only worsened since Losing Confidence was published.

Reading Losing Confidence inspired me to engage more deeply with politics, to help fix a broken system and return it to what it was supposed to be. This made the Green Party a clear choice. The Green Party of Canada engages in politics as it was meant to be, showing respect for the system and the traditions that back it by adhering to them in spite of the fact that there are no written rules requiring us to do so. For example, the Green Party of Canada is the only party that doesn’t enforce party discipline (“whip the vote”), allowing their MPs to vote on issues based on what is best for their constituency, or even based on their consciences, rather than just the will of their leader (MPs from other parties are told how to vote on virtually every bill). The Green Party has a rule of respectful conduct: we do not heckle in the House of Commons, and we do not run attack ads. These kinds of things are childish and disrespectful, and do not fit the solemn and representative nature of Members of Parliament, who are supposed to not only represent Canadians but also represent the best in Canadians as we work together for all of our benefit. And the Green Party is the only party that is consistently open to working across party lines, recognizing that we’re all on Team Canada and that political parties are not an inherent part of our political system.

So I recognized that the Green Party is the party that most respects and represents the way that politics is supposed to work in Canada. If I wanted to be involved, it was the only party I could really be involved in and feel like I was taking part in a real democracy. But parliamentary traditions are not the only traditions that I cared about: I also had to make sure that the party I joined respected my traditions, and the traditions of others around me. Just as I didn’t want to be two-faced in Parliament, I didn’t want to be two-faced in my everyday life, holding values from my faith that contrasted or conflicted with the values of my party.

3. The Faith Test

Before I joined a party, I wanted to make sure that it did not conflict with my faith. I am a Christian in the Protestant tradition, my undergraduate degree was in Biblical Theology and my MA was in Systematic Theology. I am inspired to engage in politics in large part by my faith: I believe that representing others and meeting their needs, and ensuring that governments and institutions do not exceed their functions, is a profoundly Christian vocation (which is not to say that non-Christians cannot do it, only that I feel inspired and compelled to do this as a way of following Christ). I do not believe that the vision of the Christian Heritage Party, which seeks a type of Christendom in which we create a “Christian nation”, is a) possible (Christendom fell for a reason, Calvin’s Geneva was a failure, and enforced Christianity is unethical for someone representing a multi-cultural and multi-faith constituency), or b) faithful to Scripture, theology, or Christian ethics as I understood them from my studies and experience (I’m happy to elaborate on that – send me a message if you’d like to talk!). And because of that, I don’t believe that there is a “Christian party” in any meaningful sense. It was only an issue of how well each party’s policies aligned with my faith, and whether or not my faith would be welcome in that party.

It helps that Elizabeth May is a Christian. Most politicians claim faith, but Elizabeth was almost finished a Master of Divinity degree and working toward ordination as a priest in the Anglican Church when she decided to run for leadership of the Green Party. She sees her political engagement as an expression of her faith, and the similarity of her story to mine in this regard gave me some confidence that I could fit well with the Green Party. But what about the party’s policies?

No member of any organization understands or agrees with all policies in the same way or to the same degree, so I didn’t expect a perfect match (and thankfully, the Green Party’s commitment to not whip the vote means that I don’t have to compromise my conscience for the sake of my party), but I looked for broad general agreement. One of the biggest reasons that I became interested in environmental sustainability was because I understand humanity to be responsible for caring for the earth: this is one task that all human beings have been given, it’s the job we were created for and out of which all of human culture and society is born. In this way the Green approach of integrating environmental concerns with every other issue makes sense to me, as a fundamental expression of a fundamental aspect of my theology. My faith also compels me to care for the poor, the outsider, the Other; and to be a responsible steward of the resources I’ve been given: the Green Party subscribes to the Global Greens Charter, which explicitly recognizes that there is no ecological justice without social and economic justice. The Global Greens are also committed to nonviolence, which is an increasingly powerful aspect of my own faith and theology. So the Green Party fits well with my faith and theology, allowing me to see involvement in the party and the political process as an expression of my faith. There are a few policies that I’d like to see tightened up, but none that conflict with my beliefs or conscience. I’m happy to discuss any particular Green policies that you’re interested in hearing about in relation to my faith.

 

This ended up being an enormous post, but I hope it gives you some sense of why I’m Green. Share your stories with us! Send an email to the Green Party Provencher, or to me, or leave a comment below saying that you’d like to share your story, and we’ll be happy to get back to you and get your story up on this blog!

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

Jeff Wheeldon