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In Victoria, Climate Change Is At The Heart Of An Intriguing, 3-Way Race

Green Party candidate Racelle Kooy hopes to scoop up another B.C. seat from the NDP.
HuffPost Canada Reports
HuffPost Canada Reports

VICTORIA — “I’m really afraid of the future that my son is going to face.”

Charles Campbell is sitting in his dining room, the crimson walls lined with some of his artwork, an upright piano to his left side. In the next room, his wife, Hillary Quinn, a family doctor, plays with their nine-month-old son, Remy.

“We’re on the threshold of disaster, really, if we don’t truly address this both as a nation and [as] this global community,” he tells me. “So I really need to see my elected politicians take that as seriously as the crisis demands and do something about it.”

The climate crisis affects everything voters say they care about, he says: jobs, affordability, migration. It is, for Campbell, the issue with the most serious consequences for the country but, he says, it isn’t treated as such by most political leaders.

“I feel that people like to pretend that we can go on with the status quo. The status quo will not continue. That’s just that’s how it is, unfortunately. And, we have to decide whether we’re going to manage that change or whether we’re going to be rolled by it.”

Campbell is a founder of the Victoria group “Parents for Climate.” I’m chatting with him in his home in Fernwood, an artsy neighbourhood in B.C.’s capital, because this will be a riding to watch on Oct. 21. It is the riding the Greens think they are most likely to win to increase their seat count — it’s also an interesting three-way race in which the environment is a top concern among voters.

Victoria resident Charles Campbell is shown with his son, Remy.
Stephanie Sannuto/HuffPost
Victoria resident Charles Campbell is shown with his son, Remy.

Campbell says he’s long known about the environmental consequences of human activity, but nothing crystallized his actions like the birth of his youngest son, three days before the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report last fall. It noted the world had 12 years — now 11 — to make changes to avoid catastrophe.

Now, he worries about food security, droughts, fires, rising sea levels, and the breakdown of society in the face of mass migration. His eyes water. You can feel his frustration, sadness, anxiety. He says he tries not to think about what the planet will look when his son is his age.

“Honestly I don’t try to, too much. ...

“It’s really frightening prospects that we’re facing now. And I really hope that we’re going to turn a corner; I think my real fear is that we’re not going to turn that corner.”

In this election, Campbell says, he has some hope for the Greens and the NDP. He is “very disappointed in Justin Trudeau’s Liberals,” and the Conservatives “have been a write-off on climate change for a long time.” The best outcome, in his mind, is a minority government with the Greens or the NDP holding the balance of power.

And between the two parties, he leans towards the Greens. “They understand this issue probably better than any of the other parties and are committed to action on it more than any of the other parties.”

The provincial NDP has sullied the party’s brand on climate, he says, with its support for LNG fracking.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is shown in Victoria, B.C. in July 2019.
Stephanie Sannuto/HuffPost Canada
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is shown in Victoria, B.C. in July 2019.

Still, he’s unsure — like many Victoria residents — whom he’ll vote for.

If the Green Party of Canada is to make an electoral breakthrough this October, the party believes it will happen in the riding of Victoria.

“If we don’t have the success we think we do, we’ll have to make some changes,” national campaign manager Jonathan Dickie admits.

In his view, Victoria — which includes the city of Victoria, posh Oak Bay, parts of Saanich and the University of Victoria — is ripe for the taking.

The Greens have come close here before — in 2012 when the NDP incumbent resigned. The party came within three percentage points — 1,118 votes — of winning. In the 2015 general election, the Greens came second again to the NDP. The Liberals, whose candidate had been shown the door after controversial Facebook posts, and the Conservatives were a distant third and fourth.

Now that New Democrat MP Murray Rankin is retiring, the race is more competitive, with the Greens, the NDP, and the Liberals all eyeing the seat. A Mainstreet poll in August showed the Greens leading, with the Liberals on their heels and the NDP close behind.

Sitting outside a hair salon near her candidate’s campaign headquarters, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May calls southern Vancouver Island the party’s “base” and outlines what she views as the “constellations” in place for a win.

Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May introduces newly elected Green MP, Paul Manly, during a press conference on Parliament Hill on May 10, 2019.
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May introduces newly elected Green MP, Paul Manly, during a press conference on Parliament Hill on May 10, 2019.

May’s own riding, Saanich–Gulf Islands — which she has represented since 2011 — is next door. B.C. Green party Leader Andrew Weaver has represented part of the federal riding, a provincial district known as Oak Bay–Gordon Head since 2013.

Provincial Green MLA Adam Olsen represents part of May’s riding, and Sonia Furstenau, who was also elected to the B.C. legislature in 2017, represents Cowichan Valley, near to the Greens’ latest win, a byelection race this May in which Paul Manly was elected in Nanaimo–Ladysmith.

“Getting elected on southern Vancouver Island is now something that nobody thinks is unusual,” May says.

Canadians she meets in passing at airports and train stations often tell her, she says, that they would love to vote Green but feel they need to vote strategically.

People are starting to realize, however, that if they vote Green, Greens can actually win, she says, pointing to recent victories in Prince Edward Island (eight MLAs and official Opposition status), New Brunswick (three MLAs), and Ontario (one MPP from Guelph.).

“You know, the magic formula: People vote for us, you can get elected!” she says, laughing.

May is in town for a publicity shoot with Racelle Kooy, her candidate in Victoria, and David Merner, the Greens’ candidate for Esquimalt–Saanich–Sooke, the neighbouring riding.

The waterfront in Victoria, B.C. is shown in July 2019.
Stephanie Sannuto/HuffPost Canada
The waterfront in Victoria, B.C. is shown in July 2019.

Between bites of vegetarian sushi she feeds to her black Havanese dog, Xiomara, May explains how Merner, who ran for the Liberals in the riding in 2015, was so disappointed in the Liberals’ broken promises — on the environment, on electoral reform — that he walked over to the Greens’ side.

Not only do the Greens appear poised to be riding a wave of popularity this year, the issue they are most associated with — the environment — is front and centre in the media, in public opinion polls, and in many people’s personal experience with extreme weather.

Whether it’s a “storm of the century” happening every two years, spring flooding, tornadoes or forest fires, May says people are coming to the realization that something needs to be done.

“People want to know that government’s prepared to do something real, not just talk about it, not have good slogans, not pretend you’re doing something and thank and congratulate yourself for the little bit you’re doing. We actually have to take it seriously.”

“It’s a hard issue to describe without it sounding as if you’re saying the sky is falling,” she adds. “And I’m not. We’re not Chicken Little. We’re looking at the science. And the science says we have to hit a significant reduction in fossil fuels — like cut in half — by 2030. And if we don’t do that we run the risk of unstoppable self-propelling self-accelerating levels of global warming which threaten the survival of human civilisation.”

The election has to be about climate, in May’s view. If by 2023 — the next time a federal election is held — Canadians and the world haven’t made significant changes towards a post-carbon economy by ramping up renewables and bringing in electric vehicles, she says, “it will be too late to make the change.”

Victoria Green candidate Racelle Kooy is shown in the riding in July 2019.
Stephanie Sannuto/HuffPost
Victoria Green candidate Racelle Kooy is shown in the riding in July 2019.

The Greens’ Victoria candidate, Racelle Kooy, has her own experience with extreme environmental conditions.

In 2017, Kooy, a member of the Samahquam First Nation, was displaced by wildfires that hit the community of Xat’sull First Nation, also known as Soda Creek First Nation, where she was living just north of Williams Lake in B.C.’s s interior. When she returned home, 40 days after the evacuation order, she realized nothing looked the same, not the plant life, not the moose trails she walked along in the summer or followed on snowshoes in winter. A week and a half after she returned to the community, she says, officials put up a sign saying: “Imminent danger of flash floods” because there’s nothing to hold the water in. To this day, she says, water runs down the hills when it rains, filling up the septic tanks.

A self-employed community, media and government relations specialist, Kooy decided it was time to leave. She calls herself a climate evacuee, who decided in May of 2018 to relocate to Victoria, a place chosen for its progressive values and where, she says, she could breathe smoke-free, salty air and reconnect with the coast.

Kooy, 49, was born in North Vancouver but grew up on the Salish Sea, she says, where her father was a commercial fisherman. She lived in different parts of metro Vancouver, even at one point living on the family-owned, 100-foot tug boat in False Creek Harbour.

Kooy’s mother is a member of Stswecem’c Xgat’tem, a Secwepemc community. Her father is a Dutch immigrant who came to Canada when he was 12. One of her three brothers died from a heroin overdose. (She is the Greens’ critic for mental health and addiction).

‘They’re talking about us or the NDP’

Kooy met May in early 2017, when the Greens joined local protests against a proposed open-pit copper and gold mine, the Ajax Mine project, near Kamloops. Kooy, who was doing communications against the project, which was later nixed by the First Nation, the province and the federal government, felt a convergence between the party’s values and her own. She also liked that the Greens were part of a global movement.

“We are very privileged to live in a First World country, but we also know that we leave imprints,” Kooy says during an interview in her Victoria campaign office. “Those imprints last, and it’s something that is, of course, part of the indigenous teachings of my mother’s people.”

Kooy, who is trilingual — she went to university in French, she speaks fluent Spanish and is learning Secwepemctsin — has served as a facilitator and co-chair for several Indigenous forums, including working on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Pre-Inquiry process for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

She says she was never partisan and never “wanted” to be a politician but felt compelled to step forward.

Since April, she’s been knocking on doors. What she is hearing, she says, are people who are “very frustrated with the NDP.”

“They’re not talking to me about the Liberals. They’re not talking about the Conservatives. They’re not talking about the People’s Party. They’re talking about us or the NDP.”

The New Democrats’ stand on several issues remains unclear, she says. On fracking, for example, “where [do] they stand?”

“With the Greens, I know which way we’re going to navigate. Anything we put forward is about the long term viability, … not just, what we’re best known for, climate, but also what whether it’s economy, or sustainability, or health, well-being, and that’s something that I know we’ll never waver with the Greens.”

So far, the issues residents have brought up revolve around affordability, health care, and climate.

She thinks residents here might have a deeper understanding of the environment because it’s a “lifestyle choice” for many to live on Vancouver Island.

“This is a gardening city. This is a city where people in the day to day are getting out there pulling weeds, they’re interacting with the earth that they walk on,” she says. “People take the time to enjoy the nature that surrounds them and they love it. They want to look after it and they appreciate it.”

Laurel Collins, the NDP candidate in Victoria, is shown in an interview with HuffPost Canada in July 2019.
Stephanie Sannuto/HuffPost
Laurel Collins, the NDP candidate in Victoria, is shown in an interview with HuffPost Canada in July 2019.

NDP candidate Laurel Collins is not getting the reception she expected at the doors, and, with a reporter in tow, it is a bad day to have a bad run. As the rain drizzles on volunteers shut out from shelter at an unexpectedly closed coffee shop and with a four-year-old out campaigning who badly needs to pee, Collins lets out a nervous laugh.

After an hour or so door-knocking, we found a woman enjoying some pre-dinner wine who wanted to talk about Airbnb rules and who seemed more inclined to vote Liberal or Conservative; a New Democrat who didn’t want to chat; a very friendly young man who planned to vote for the People’s Party of Canada because of its pro-gun policies; and a filmmaker who was passionate about housing policy but had nothing but praise for the Liberals’ policies and concerns about NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s abilities.

This isn’t a usual night, Collins tells me.

The 35-year-old Victoria city councillor, who was elected to her first term only last October, is hoping to keep the riding for the NDP.

Rankin’s retirement came as a surprise, she says.

“When I got elected, I had no intention of leaving.”

Rankin is a big reason Collins got involved in politics. She praises him as an “incredible advocate” for the community and an effective MP in Ottawa, standing up for civil liberties, the environment and Indigenous rights.

“He’s leaving really big shoes to fill, and I would not be doing this if he had not come to me and, you know, asked me to step up.”

Watch: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh promises action to fight climate change

A year ago, Collins was co-chairing Divest Victoria, an advocacy group she co-founded to urge municipal governments to divest their fossil fuel investments and direct the funds towards environmentally sustainable projects. This spring, she was still teaching at the University of Victoria and working on her PhD on theories and practices of non-violence.

She originally intended to work for the United Nations but during a field placement in Uganda, as the “walk to work protests” there were hitting the streets and the government was responding violently, Collins decided she might want to do something different.

“The military was brought in; people died. It made me realize that I want to work on solutions before they erupt in violence.”

She started going to council meetings and, encouraged by the feedback she received from the community, threw herself in the ring municipally.

“It’s kind of putting your money where your mouth is,” she says.

Collins, who grew up on Salt Spring Island and Vancouver Island and has lived in the riding since 2007, is part of a divided council.

James Lawson, a political scientist at the University of Victoria, told HuffPost Canada that some voters might think twice about supporting Collins federally simply because they really want to keep their popular councillor at home.

Two of the reasons Collins cites for making the jump into federal politics are the city’s housing crisis — like other communities, Victoria is increasingly becoming an unaffordable place to live — and the IPCC report.

“The fact that we have less than 12 years to meet our climate targets if we want a livable planet — we are in a crisis,” she says during an interview in the lobby of the Hotel Grand Pacific.

“Being on city council, we can make a difference here in Victoria — we can make a small difference … but unless we have a federal government that is going to be a partner with municipalities, we are not going to be successful in this.”

She is dismayed by the Liberals’ decision to approve the expansion and purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“It’s the epitome of hypocrisy,” she says. “It’s the kind of politics that just has people disheartened and checked out.”

Collins knows the Greens are nipping at her heels. She says she has “a lot of respect for people who run for the Green Party, who vote Green,” but the difference between the two is that the New Democrats will provide a way towards a low-carbon reality “while leaving no one behind.”

“We’re going to invest in retraining workers, making sure that life is more affordable for everyday people,” she says, “making sure that … the wealthiest corporations pay and ensuring that we’re investing in our communities and our health care system.”

I note that Kooy has used the same words to say the same thing.

But Collins sticks to the same point.

“It’s not just about protecting our environment — that is an essential component. It’s not just about making life more affordable or protecting jobs — but those are essential components. It’s really about realizing that these challenges that we face are interconnected.”

Nikki Macdonald, the Liberal candidate in Victoria, chats with HuffPost Canada's Althia Raj.
Stephanie Sannuto/HuffPost
Nikki Macdonald, the Liberal candidate in Victoria, chats with HuffPost Canada's Althia Raj.

Nikki Macdonald insists the Liberals are not going to pay a price for their decision to both approve and purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Macdonald, whom I met in Victoria in July when she was B.C. co-chair for the federal Liberal campaign, is now the Grits’ candidate. What she told me then was that the traditional view of the Island, as a pumpkin with a small bit of green and most of it orange, was shifting, with the New Democrats’ vote eroding.

“What we’re hearing at the doors is people are just not supporting the leader,” she said. “They don’t have confidence in the NDP leader. So we’re hoping they’ll have confidence in our leader.”

In a recent exchange, Madonald sidesteps questions about whether that’s changed, and how Trudeau’s blackface revelations are playing out at the doorsteps. She says people are concerned with housing, affordability, access to physicians, and that the number one issue remains the environment.

“Lots of people support the Greens’ values,” she says, “but what they’re not so not sure of is whether the Greens are going to form the government.

“They want somebody who’s actually going to do something for the environment. [And] Liberals have been doing a lot,” she adds, noting the government’s ocean protection plan and the work on marine protected areas.

“There are certain simple arguments that are being made that, you know, we can stop our reliance on fossil fuel today, and clearly we can’t,” she says. “We need to continue some reliance on fossil fuel industry in the short term … as we transition into a clean economy by investing in clean technologies, and the Liberal government has been doing that.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a $1.5-billion national Oceans Protection Plan as Transport Minister Marc Garneau listens, at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver, B.C., on Nov, 7, 2016.
Darryl Dyck/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a $1.5-billion national Oceans Protection Plan as Transport Minister Marc Garneau listens, at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver, B.C., on Nov, 7, 2016.

Macdonald says the Liberals’ approval of the twinning of the Trans Mountain is “not inconsistent at all” with protecting the environment. The party has been focused, she says, on ensuring that “whatever imprint the the pipeline might have on the environment is being mitigated.”

Macdonald’s own background is in oceans governance. She has spent the past decade as a consultant and as executive director of government relations at the University of Victoria working with Ocean Networks Canada. She also took time to finish a PhD on Canada’s Oceans Act and how it relates to Indigenous values and public expectations of oceans management.

The daughter of former cabinet minister Donald Macdonald, she was born in Toronto and spent considerable time in the corridors of Parliament.

“My dad used to take me to the House [of Commons] when I was a wee person. I used to sit in the gallery and overlook and watch question period.”

For more than 40 years, Macdonald says, she’s been passionate about Canadian politics and watching the country’s democracy in action.

“When I worked in Ottawa, I used to slip away when I could to go and watch the House. So it’s a place I’ve always loved. I wasn’t sure if I would one day put my name on the ballot, but I stayed involved in politics.”

Macdonald spent 12 years working for the Liberals, as director of appointments in prime minister Jean Chrétien’s office, and as senior adviser to immigration minister Elinor Caplan.

After leaving Ottawa in 2005, she worked for a pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough, which was later bought out by Merck. She moved to Victoria with her husband to join the University of Victoria. The fifty-ish-year-old — she wouldn’t give me her age — has two adult daughters who live in Vancouver and Toronto.

Many Liberal cabinet ministers have visited riding

Victoria has been Liberal before. Between 1993 and 2006, David Anderson, a determined environmentalist who became environment minister in 1999, held the seat. He brought in Canada’s Species At Risk Act and secured ratification of the Kyoto Protocol (although Canada never met its targets).

Macdonald says the business community in Victoria, especially, would like to return someone to the governing caucus. “Victoria has had a tradition over the past 13 years of electing somebody in a third party, and the feeling is that that hasn’t always served the city very well,” she says.

More than half a dozen Liberal cabinet ministers have visited the riding in the past year.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau asked to meet with the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, its CEO told HuffPost, as did Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly, Treasury Board President Joyce Murray, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson — who came to address the subject of dwindling salmon stocks and the risks to the southern resident orca population from increased traffic of tankers and freighters.

I ask about the Tory candidate, Richard Caron, a Victoria chef who was nominated this summer. She dismisses the possibility that the three parties might split the vote. The Conservatives have not won a seat in Victoria since 1984, but they finished in a distant second place in 2011 and 2008. (Caron did not respond to an interview request.)

“Victoria likes to elect people of substance,” Macdonald says. “That’s why some people are saying that I have a real opportunity now, because of having that background experience, plus the education, plus the reputation of integrity.”

I mention to Macdonald that my perception from talking to folks on the street is that there seems to be a palpable disappointment with the prime minister on the environment.

“Oh, I haven’t picked that up at all,” she responds.

Juliet Watts, 19, is shown in Victoria in July 2019.
Stephanie Sannuto/HuffPost
Juliet Watts, 19, is shown in Victoria in July 2019.

Juliet Watts would vehemently disagree.

The 19-year-old political science student and community organizer says young people are frustrated with the Liberals’ inaction on climate.

“A lot of young people voted for Justin Trudeau and the Liberals with the hope that they would do better, that they would really change like they promised that they would.”

With the pipeline approval, increased tanker traffic in the area, and the Liberals’ “disrespect [of] an Indigenous woman” — former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould who was removed from her post, she says, for refusing to offer Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement — Watts believes the Grits won’t find much attraction among young voters.

The first Friday of every month, hundreds of students routinely show up at the provincial legislature to take part in a climate strike.

Subsidizing and investing in fossil fuels is giving companies the social licence to run, she says, and it “is allowing them to destroy our environment, our ecosystem, and our watersheds.” Something that she finds “completely unethical.”

“I live every day with this weight of a warming climate and a changing climate on my shoulders, and I wish that I felt that my representatives reflected that feeling.”

She hopes the contest is a race between the NDP and the Greens.

Thomas Edward Thomas speaks with HuffPost Canada's Althia Raj.
Stephanie Sannuto/HuffPost
Thomas Edward Thomas speaks with HuffPost Canada's Althia Raj.

Thomas Edward Thomas, an older gentleman, is waiting for the bus.Climate isn’t top of mind for him.

“Dealing with China, dealing with the United States, dealing with a lot of people who are homeless, those are the issues that I am concerned about,” he tells me as we wait on a park bench. “And as of yet, I haven’t heard one politician that is even going to touch it.”

The parties talk around the issues, he says, but don’t actually deal with them.

“Of the [four] parties, that we’ve got here, the only one that I think that is any good, that I think might have a chance, is the Green party,” he says. “The rest of them, I wouldn’t give you 50 cents for.”

He thinks the Greens are going to surprise a lot of people.

“I actually think they are going to give the Liberals a big surprise, and the Conservatives. And the NDP — with the leader they got, I think that will all go down in the tubes,” he says, speaking of Singh. “As for Trudeau, and as for the Conservative leader, they haven’t got a clue what they are up to, and that is my opinion.”

This story is a part of the federal election edition of HuffPost Reports. This summer, the HuffPost Canada politics team spread out across the country to take a look at some of the ridings that could make a real difference in the outcome of this year’s campaign. Ridings To Watch is an ongoing series that looks at the people and politicians in those communities and the role they might play as Canadians head to the polls.

With a file from Amanda De Souza

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