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Caring about Climate: The Catalyst to Political Change?

Caring about Climate: The Catalyst to Political Change?

Written by Evangeline Kroon

Organized by the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies on March 7, 2023.

Is caring about climate change enough to make political change?

My research takes up this question by looking at Guelph, Ontario where, in 2018, the riding elected Green Party candidate Mike Schreiner. The Green Party’s success was significant, since this election marked the first time a Green Party candidate was ever elected in Ontario.

Was this a turning point for Canada?

Thinking back to 2018, it felt like a watershed moment for the environment. There were Climate marches worldwide. Fridays for Future saw students walking out of classrooms on a weekly basis to protect inaction about climate change. Trudeau banned plastic straws, as a small step to curbing plastics pollution.

Was the election of Ontario first-ever Green Party MPP in Guelph the beginning of a political movement that was going to spread across the country? And if so, why there, and why then?

To answer this question, I traced the history of Green parties in parliamentary systems, in Europe and Australasia, that are similar to Canada. Since Green parties have existed and been successful since the early 1970s, there was much to be learned from experiences elsewhere.  

I found a range of factors mattered for Green parties’ election success, including a strong economy, guaranteed government funding for registered political parties, and competition among political parties for Green Party votes.

But what about the Green Party in Ontario?

Ontario has a unique history, rooted in an economy built on extraction and manufacturing but now more dependent on finance and services. It is a very wealthy province, and a politically powerful one.  Ontario has high levels of education, compared to other provinces. From 1985 to today, Ontario has had a  competitive three-party system, where the Conservative, Liberal, and New Democratic parties have each formed majority governments.

Together, these factors are hopeful for those who support Green parties, since the province does not depend on the fossil fuel industry, it has a strong economy, a highly educated population and a competitive party system.

Gains are possible, especially in cities like Guelph, which boasts a relatively wealthy, highly educated citizenry, motivated to address climate change. Since Ontario is a powerful province, the election of a Green official in Ontario could signal a shift in broader political norms across the country.

But many questions remain.

How do Green parties strategize in Ontario’s first part the post voting system? What happens if current economic uncertainties worsen and deepen? How do voting districts that favour the suburban and rural vote play into Green party success across Ontario?

One thing is certain.

Caring about climate change and Green politics is not enough to ensure a Green Party win. But making climate change a major electoral issue is necessary, if there is to be any chance at all.