Green leader offers Kitchener-Waterloo riding ‘unique opportunity’

Read the original article at The Record

By Luisa D’Amato

Mike Schreiner, leader of Ontario’s Green party, grew up on a farm. So he sees the clearest of connections between an unspoiled environment and a strong economy. “If you don’t have healthy soil and clean water, you’re not going to raise the crops that put money and food on the table,” he says.

Schreiner was in town Thursday, preparing for the most important byelection in Ontario history. Last month, Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer resigned. Her move set off an intense wave of speculation, since a Liberal victory here could give that party the slimmest of majorities.

Because of the pressure-cooker atmosphere, most of the talk surrounding the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection has been about strategy. Who will be the Liberal candidate on whom so much responsibility rests? What kind of person could hold the riding for the Conservatives? And so on.

These are important questions. But they shift the focus away from the best thing about politics, which is finding ways to help people have better lives. And that’s what was so refreshing about Schreiner’s visit.

He was there to campaign, of course, but also to articulate a set of principles that bring together fiscal conservatism and a strong economy with environmental protectionism. Climate change threatens to cost Canada $5 billion by 2020, he said. You can see it coming already as fruit farmers watch their crops being destroyed by an unseasonably warm period this year, followed by frost that killed the too-early blossoms on the trees.

Saving energy creates jobs, he said as he visited the REEP house in Kitchener. It’s a century-old home that’s a showcase for environmentally friendly innovations (imagine a fridge that costs $5 a year to operate, or a system that captures and uses the heat in your bath or shower water as it goes down the drain). For half the cost of building a new nuclear reactor, you could retrofit 1.6 million homes to use less energy so that the nuclear reactor wouldn’t be needed, he said.

“The cheapest and greenest source of energy is the energy you save in the first place.”

Schreiner is the fourth provincial political leader to come through the area in the past nine days, so a little partisanship was in order. He argued that if Kitchener-Waterloo were to elect a Green candidate, its residents would have incredible bargaining clout at Queen’s Park. That one MPP could vote with the Liberals in their minority government, or against them.

“Kitchener-Waterloo has this unique opportunity to actually hold the balance of power, if they vote Green,” he said.

Just as Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty starts to creep back into his old free-spending ways, Schreiner is there to push back. McGuinty indicated this week that public funds would be used to help the Ford Motor Co., which wants $240 million from us, or it won’t go ahead with plant upgrades to help meet increased demand.

Schreiner disagrees with McGuinty. “The auto sector is doing great, thank you,” he said. “Why not use that money to support young entrepreneurs creating new businesses? Where’s the next RIM going to come from? Why don’t we reduce taxes on jobs?”

With Schreiner was Jason Hammond, local Green supporter and president of Grand River Car Share, a co-operative with 600 members (I’m one of them). He said the message of the Greens can be easily summarized in this small-c conservative statement: “Don’t waste my planet, or my tax dollars.” I like it.