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Green Party Leadership Race Contender: David Merner

We sent each of the candidates this 23-question questionnaire.
Rebecca Zisser/Handout

1. Full name:
David Robert Merner

2. Date of birth:
August 23, 1962

3. Marital status? Children?
Married with four daughters

4. Would you describe yourself as religious?

If so, what religion/denomination do you subscribe to?
I am a member of the United Church of Canada.

5. Why do you think you’re best placed to be the next Green Party leader?
1) Unity: I am the only candidate in the race who has consistently campaigned in a way that will enable me to unite the other candidates and create a dynamic, empowered Team of Rivals. I understand the sources of Green Party disunity in my bones, and know how to take on the very difficult job of healing the divisions and reversing the culture of negativity inside our party.

2) Experience: I believe I am the only candidate in the race who has the experience necessary to transform the Green Party from a group of activists into a competent political force in Canadian politics. In particular, I am the only leadership candidate to have:

(a) campaigned from the Atlantic to the Pacific on winnning Green campaigns federally, provincially, and municipally — earning votes on doorsteps in both official languages across Canada, from summer “épluchettes de blé d’Inde” to Christmas “guignolées”;

(b) thirty years of deep, on the ground experience recruiting and inspiring volunteers, as well as organizing at the grassroots level in ridings across Canada in every capacity from door knocker to riding president;

(c) served as a leader in national level politics with two political parties, as a member of the National Board of the Liberal Party of Canada and as a member of Elizabeth May’s Shadow Cabinet (as Justice Critic and Democratic Reform Critic).

(d) worked at senior levels in government as a public servant in Conservattive, Liberal, and NDP governments, both in Ottawa (at the Department of Justice and Privy Council Office) and in Victoria (at the Ministry of Attorney General).

The skills I acquired as a lawyer and dispute resolution specialist in government over 28 years are uniquely relevant to solving the serious internal challenges now facing the Green Party of Canada.

(3) Winnabiltiy: I am the only candidate who is able to win the seat they ran in in 2019. (I came second in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke with 26 per cent of the vote.) Many of the other candidates in the leadership race did not run in 2019 or have never run for the Greens. Winnability in my own riding translates into me being able to spend much more time outside my riding, campaigning for other candidates across Canada. Also, other leadership candidates have excellent specific appeal to certain ideological or identiy groups, but I offer the broadest public appeal from coast to coast to coast of all the candidates. That broad appeal, in both official languages, is essential to winning seats across Canada.

6. What top two problems do you believe the party currently faces? And how do you plan to try to overcome them?
The top two problems we face are (1) culture and (2) organization.

The Green Party culture is an activist culture that focuses on small differences, rather than a confident political culture characterized by positive, hard work between elections, building a very welcoming and positive sense of community, and acting consistently on our values, particularly our diversity value which requires deep respect for diversity of people and opinion.

We demonstrated in the 2019 election our inablity to deliver on the essentials of political organization, including: (a) empowerment of front line volunteers and development of basic organizational competence in 338 ridings across Canada; (b) clear, consistent, compelling political messaging that is entirely-evidence based, credible, and understandable to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

I plan to address these two problems by leading by example. Throughout this leadership campaign, I have campaigned in a positive, cooperative, unifying manner starting with the gathering of nomination signatures for all the other candidates. I have crossed the country from B.C. to Quebec twice, the only candidate to focus in this way on connecting with grassroots Greens where they live and with Young Greens on campus clubs from the University of Victoria to the University of Montreal and McGill. (Pandemic rules prevented me from campaigning in Atlantic Canada in person.) The Green Party needs to rebuild from the ground up, and I’m the only candidate who has the experience and the know-how to deliver on that building project in both official languages.

“We need a national campaign that is inspiring, disciplined, and that resonates with Canadians.”

7. Why do you think the party failed to win more seats in the last election?
(1) Most importantly, a party’s ability to win seats depends on the performance of the party leader. Our new leader must be able, on Day One, to campaign on doorsteps and consistently win leaders’ debates in both official languages. We need a leader who unites our party, particularly the other amazing leadership candidates. If all the other leadership candidates were to run in the next federal election, we would transform the Green Party together and, by winning seats, transform Canadian politics. We also need a leader who is credible to Canadians from all walks of life and all parts of our country.

(2) We need a national campaign that is inspiring, disciplined, and that resonates with Canadians. During the 2019 campaign, we were distracted by self-made problems, including waffling on abortion, racists in New Brunswick, and separatists in Quebec. We need to be much better organized, better disciplined, and more focused at the national level.

(3) We are not organized on the ground. Having travelled from B.C. to Quebec twice in this leadership campaign, I have personal experience of our state of disorganization: we are organized in only 15 to 20 ridings. New candidates are chosen far too late, they then find there’s no money in the bank and they have few volunteers to help out. We need much better “on the ground” support from the leader of the party between elections. We must also empower our front line volunteers and organizers. We must start first, work hardest, and work smartest locally and nationally.

8. What would be your policy priorities if you become the leader?
My policy priorities as leader would be the policy priorities of our party members. This is critical because participatory democracy is a core Green value, and leaders do not set policy in the Green Party, members do. On my travels across Canada, I have consulted with members on what our top three policy priorities should be if we hold the balance of power in a minority government situation after the next election. I am hearing a consensus that the following should be our top three.

First, a clear, time-limited climate action and pandemic recovery plan that includes measurable outcomes and is designed to (a) re-build our economy by moving Canada into renewable energy and off fossil fuels; and (b) leave no one behind as we make this transition.

Second, and closely related to our first priority, is the implementation of a guaranteed livable income to replace the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

And third, we should negotiate an integrity in government package that includes proportional representation.

On a more personal note, I am very interested in Indigenous justice, particularly addressing the injustices now being done to Indigenous families whose children continue to be taken away from them in record numbers. This relates closely to another personal priority: equality for persons who are now systematically marginalized in our society due to poverty, homelessness, addictions, mental health challenges, or their ethnic, linguistic, or cultural backgrounds.

9. What public policy issue do you feel is undercovered and deserving of more political and public attention?
The opioid crisis is killing more Canadians every day than the pandemic. This is especially tragic because we know the solutions, but our political leaders lack the political will and skill to implement those solutions. In Canada, Dr. Bonnie Henry (B.C.’s heroic medical officer of health) has laid out step by step solutions. Internationally, Portugal, Switzerland, and Netherlands are years ahead of Canada in shifting off the massive failure of criminal justice “solutions” to the opioid crisis and onto health system solutions. The total lack of political leadership, combined with the massive gap between rhetoric and action, from the federal Liberals and the B.C. NDP is appalling and deserves more attention.

10. What makes you happy?
I love working with innovation teams on impossibly difficult and important missions, and turning the impossible into the possible together.

11. Tea or coffee? Beer or wine?
Coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. Beer after hockey and wine at dinner.

12. Favourite thing to do?
To hug and receive hugs from family members.

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My family, including 30 years of marriage to my spouse and four amazing daughters.

14. What is an invaluable lesson you’ve learned during this leadership campaign or your time in politics?

Every one of us makes mistakes, and shifting from “blame” (including self-blame) to “continuous learning”, helps us to (a) live with mistakes, and (b) in the long run, turn mistakes from a negative into a positiive.

15.What is your most marked characteristic?
Relentless positivity.

16. What is your greatest fear?
My death preceding my spouse’s death.

17. What is your greatest extravagance?
Rum and cokes.

18. Who is a politician from another political party that you respect?
Jody Wilson-Raybould.

19. Which living person do you most admire?
My spouse.

20. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? In others?
I deplore my tendency to judge ideas and people too quickly, as that gets in the way of listening, learning, and acting with kindness. In others, I deplore the tendency to judge too quickly, rather than to listen, learn, and act with kindness.

21. What is your greatest regret?
Not having four kids at home any more - our youngest will be leaving us this coming year and I am already regretting it.

22. On what occasions do you lie?
To protect others.

23. Which superpower do you wish you had?
The power to shape the future.

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