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Voters should think Green

OTTAWA — Life seems a tiny bit unfair for voters in Eastern Ontario’s two provincial byelections. Like kids with a detention, they have been assigned to pay attention to provincial politics while the rest of us get to focus on the Olympics.

People in Ottawa West-Nepean and Leeds-Grenville have the dreary assignment of weighing the merits of the political parties. That can be depressing. There are the Liberals, with their scandals and broken promises; the PCs, still trying to figure out who they are; and the NDP, for those who think we don’t have enough socialism and big government.

Fortunately, for voters who are sick of all of this, there is one other alternative, although it’s probably not top of mind. Yes, Ontario does have a Green party and it has fielded solid candidates in both ridings. Better, it has a leader who comes across as a normal person, not a politician. Better yet, the Greens have policies that are much more in sync with real life than those of their competitors.

The Greens’ new leader, Mike Schreiner, has released a platform aimed at Eastern Ontario. Imagine some political party thinking of us. Schreiner and the Greens are talking about the kinds of things that are actually on people’s minds like the food we eat and where it comes from, doing more for the environment, the energy efficiency of our homes and our right to make decisions for our own communities. It’s an attractive blend of populism and environmentalism.

The Greens naturally advocate more green jobs and a green building program, but their focus is on small Ontario manufacturers with new technologies and homeowners or builders who want to increase energy conservation. It’s about what you can do, not what a South Korean multinational corporation like Samsung can do.

The whole focus of the Ontario Green party is on local, community-based decision making. It’s a sharp contrast to the top-down management favoured by the Liberals and the PCs before them. The underlying idea is that people are smart enough to figure out what’s best for their communities without a lot of paternalistic advice from government.

Not every detail of the Green platform is entirely convincing. For example, the Greens want to lower taxes on work and increase taxes on behaviour. Government might make up the lost income taxes by taking in more in new taxes on fuel-consuming vehicles or over-packaged products. It sounds attractive, but if people actually respond to the incentive it would quickly erode the government’s tax base.

In Ottawa West-Nepean, the Green candidate is Mark MacKenzie. He’s the sort of grey-haired, well-dressed business guy the PCs would have loved to get as a candidate. MacKenzie, who runs an organic-lawn-care company, is articulate and passionate about the Greens and the possibility of change.

Neil Kudrinko is the Green candidate in Leeds-Grenville. A former Eastern Ontario president of the federal Liberal party, Kudrinko switched to the Greens because the other parties don’t have a good grasp of what rural ridings like his really need. As the operator of a family-run grocery store, Kudrinko sees firsthand how difficult it is for Ontario farmers to get their products into the marketplace. Agricultural innovation and sustainable rural communities are his interests.

For the conventional parties, it’s all about gaining and holding power. Platforms are tailored to boost election prospects. In other words, it’s about them, not us. The Greens actually believe in the ideas they present. It’s closer to a social movement than a political party, but the Greens are professionalizing their approach. Schreiner is their first full-time leader and he has been spending time at Queen’s Park, making himself available to the media. He is campaigning actively with his candidates in Eastern Ontario.

The Greens would seem to have stiff competition from the Ontario Liberals, who use the word “green” every chance they get. The problem is that Premier Dalton McGuinty acts like doing anything green is some kind of social cod-liver oil that he is going to make us swallow because only he understands that it’s good for us. McGuinty’s policies aren’t tapping into people’s innate desire to be better environmental stewards.

The outcome of Eastern Ontario’s two byelections is regarded by most as a foregone conclusion. The Liberals will retain their Ottawa West-Nepean seat and the PCs will maintain their hold on Leeds-Grenville. Voters, ask yourself what they have done to deserve your endorsement. Maybe it’s time to send a message to both parties by voting Green.

Contact Randall Denley at 613-596-3756 or by e-mail, rdenley@thecitizen.canwest.com