Greens widen the conversation

The Waterloo Record–greens-widen-the-conversation

Mike Schreiner is a politician with some unpopular ideas. Good for him.

The Green party of Ontario leader’s stands on the future of Highway 7 and the province’s school boards bluntly contradict those adopted by the bigger parties running in the Kitchener-Waterloo provincial byelection. His positions probably grate on many local voters, too.
But in an important byelection that could determine the future of Ontario politics, the Green party is providing welcome alternatives and adding to the discussion. Schreiner did all this at an hour-long meeting with Record editors and a reporter this week.
Take Highway 7, as intensely local of an issue as you’ll get. The Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats disagree on many matters but on Highway 7 they essentially read from the same script. All approve spending more than $300 million to build a new highway to the north of the existing Highway 7 route between Kitchener and Guelph.
Schreiner and the Greens do not. They would improve the existing route by adding passing lanes in some areas as well as paved shoulders. But they don’t want to cover more Ontario farmland and wetlands with asphalt. They want to improve rail options — something they think will become increasingly attractive as gasoline costs rise.
Or, look at the provincial education system with its public as well as Catholic school boards. For the leaders of the big political parties, this issue is a third rail they dare not touch. Schreiner isn’t afraid of a jolt. The Greens have long advocated merging the public and Catholic boards into one secular system. Schreiner argues the money that could have been saved doing this would have made it far easier now to negotiate new contracts with the province’s teachers — something that is now proving to be a daunting task for the governing Liberals.
It’s true that the Greens may feel free to be candid on such controversial issues because they have never finished higher than fourth in any Kitchener-Waterloo riding election. Moreover, they have no prospect of forming the government after the Sept. 6 byelection and don’t have to worry about keeping any of these promises in the near future. Indeed, if the Greens felt that real political power was within their grasp, they might soften some of their views. However, they’re not compromising their principles to grab this one seat.
And as Schreiner points out, what the Greens alone propose today may become the party line for their rivals tomorrow. His was the only party advocating a wage freeze for the public sector in last fall’s provincial general election. This time around, the Liberals, Conservatives and even the NDP are in their own ways ready to put public sector wage demands on ice.
The democratic process is not simply about who is right and who is wrong but how members of a community will collectively deal with important matters. And we can do that far better when we have more ideas being discussed and shared. Whatever its outcome, the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection is better with a Green candidate and the contributions of the Green party.