Green Party sees hope for Saskatchewan’s future

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A greener future/Courtesy Green Party of Canada

Green is the colour but politics is the game

Written by: Julia Peterson

With the ever-enduring popularity of Roughriders jerseys in Saskatchewan, people in this province are clearly in the habit of wearing green for any and every occasion. But will they ever get in the habit of voting Green?

October’s federal election saw a clean sweep for the Conservative Party in Saskatchewan, and the Green Party took only 2.5 per cent of the popular vote in the province. Naomi Hunter, the Green Party’s candidate in Regina-Lewvan, is hopeful for her party’s future in the prairies. Hunter took four per cent of the vote in her riding, which is the best result that any Green Party candidate has ever had in Saskatchewan.

“It’s going to be very hard for people in Saskatchewan to imagine voting for a Green,” said Hunter. “But I’m highly credible, I’m personable, and if I can just meet enough people – keep showing up at events and knocking on those doors – I completely believe even though everybody thinks that the first breakthrough for Green’s on the prairies is going to be in Manitoba, it’s going to be here.”

Hunter said that her credibility comes from her decades of activism, starting in high school and continuing to this day.

“Talking about the climate crisis and environmental and social justice issues have been my guiding force for my entire life,” she said. “I’m now 46 years old, but if people get ahold of me, I do try to show up at protests and help get petitions signed, and I have started petitions of my own.”

Hunter is also considering running in Saskatchewan’s provincial election next November. Though the provincial Greens and the federal Greens are separate parties, she said she has been approached to run provincially.

“My concern is, where do I see the Greens making a breakthrough in Saskatchewan?” she said, talking through the factors that will impact her decision. “Will it be at a provincial level? Do I have a better chance of being an MLA, or am I better off just continuing to door-knock and reach people at a federal level?”

Historically, left-leaning voters in Saskatchewan have tended to vote for the NDP, who took almost 20 per cent of the province’s votes in the federal election. But Hunter thinks that the Greens could move provincial politics even further to the left.

“Here in Saskatchewan, we have unique environmental and social issues,” she said. “And the leftist party that mainly speaks for us here in Saskatchewan is the NDP. And they’ve done a good job for many years. But think of what a better job they could do if they had an even stronger leftist voice in Parliament, speaking purely for the poorest members of our society and for the earth.”

The Saskatchewan Green Party has been attracting new voters and volunteers. Regina resident Wendy Phillips, who volunteered for the Green Party in the federal election, said that this year is the first time she ever voted Green.

“I had a friend that started volunteering with the Greens and I decided to come check it out, and I liked what I heard and saw,” she said. “I think the biggest thing right now is the climate crisis. I hear about it and read about it everywhere on the internet, and then when it comes to our federal politicians, you don’t hear anything. Partway through the election, all of a sudden, the Liberals donned a green logo and represented themselves as being green, and everyone was talking green. But now that they’re elected, I don’t hear anything about it.”

In a province where so much of the economy is dependent on oil, voting for the Green Party can seem like a particularly tough sell, but Hunter said that the Green Party is planning for a future where the province is able to move beyond oil and into a more sustainable future, both environmentally and economically.

“The oil industry has boomed and bust for years,” she said. “And to those workers [in the oil industry], I sympathize with you [ . . .] But pretending we can go on forever in some kind of industrialist, glamourized concept of the future isn’t realistic anymore. We knew that we have a limited carbon budget to live with. Companies had the choice to protect their workers, and to protect their profits. But instead they’re just choosing to try going on the way they’ve been going forever. And you know what? If you keep walking into a wall when there’s a door right beside you that you could go through, that’s not progress.”

In the Regina-Wascana riding, which includes the University of Regina and is the voting location for many of the students who live on campus, Green Party candidate Tamela Friesen received 2.9 per cent of the vote.

With the provincial election coming up next year, and the potential of another federal election because of the minority government, the Green Party candidates are strategizing about how to get out the youth vote and attract young voters to their cause. A 2016 study by Elections Canada found that nearly 30 per cent of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 said they were too busy to vote, and another 33 per cent who said they did not vote because they were not interested in politics.

“I believe so strongly that the youth are the ones most affected by the climate crisis,” Hunter said. “These are who we need to reach – these are the people that can make or break the next election. And I intend to win them over one by one. If I need to go for coffee with every single person attending the University of Regina over this next year, I will make those coffee dates from now until when the next election is held so I can convince them to vote Green.”

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