By Mike Baker
Almost three decades after first fielding a candidate in the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock riding, the Green Party of Canada now has an established local Electoral District Association [EDA].
EDAs are sanctioned administrative organizations that facilitate party and community building activities at the riding level. Essentially, they assist candidates throughout the election process, and then, once elections are over, ensure their party maintains a presence in the community.
Karen Hillis and Tom Regina are the faces behind this new movement in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock. The pair joined forces back in the spring in an attempt to inspire change and help the Greens gain some real foothold in the Highlands.
“We think interest in the Green Party and this platform is increasing across not only our riding, but provincially and federally as well. I think this is an organic response,” Hillis said, answering a question as to why now was the right time for the party to establish an official EDA.
“For a lot of people, the environment and what’s happening to the environment is very visible, very palpable,” she added. “When you look at what’s happening outside – it snowed on May 26 this year, when two days prior to that it had been 32 degrees [Celsius]. People are noticing these fluctuations, they can see the environmental concerns in our riding and I think they’re waking up and saying ‘wait a second, this is happening, we’ve got to do something about it’.”
According to statistics provided by Elections Canada, the Green Party first ran a candidate in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock in the 1984 federal election, with George K. Kerr recording 339 votes, good enough for 0.7 per cent of the popular vote in the riding.
At that point, the Greens were a fringe party with a skeleton crew of volunteers.
Twenty years would pass before the local riding would see another Green candidate. By this time, in the fall of 2004, the party was more established and, with scientists starting to shine a light on the global climate crisis and citizens becoming more environmentally aware, people began taking notice.
Tim Holland secured 2,637 votes [4.7 per cent] in 2004, Andy Harjula received 3.017 votes [5 per cent] in 2006, and Michael Bell recorded 4,505 votes [8.3 per cent] in 2008. All of a sudden, this was a party showing real signs of progression.
In the most recent federal election, in 2019, Elizabeth Fraser put up the best Green performance in the riding’s history, receiving 5,515 votes, good enough for 8.4 per cent of the popular vote locally.
Hillis says that most recent performance coincided with a nationwide movement that culminated with the election of three Green Party representatives – long-time now former leader Elizabeth May in the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands in British Columbia, Paul Manly in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in British Columbia, and Jenica Atwin in the riding of Fredericton in New Brunswick.
“That performance was hugely important and inspiring. It gives you hope that there could be a better future,” Hillis said.
Since that last election, things have changed drastically for the Greens. In late 2019, May announced she would be stepping down as party leader. A leadership election was held in October 2020, where Toronto-based lawyer and activist Annamie Paul was elected to succeed May. Paul finished second in a 2020 Toronto Centre federal by-election and, to date, does not hold a seat in parliament.
On top of that, one of the party’s three elected officials, Jenica Atwin, recently defected from the Greens, crossing the floor to join the Liberal caucus on June 10. She cited internal party disagreements over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as reason for her departure.
Despite this, Hillis believes the Greens have an “inspirational” leader in Paul, whose presence and ability to speak and connect with people will help push the party forward in the next election.
And, while environmental issues and concerns are chief among the Green Party’s priorities, Regina says things have evolved over the years.
“There’s obviously a climate crisis that is happening all around us right now, and that, first and foremost, needs to be addressed. But then you look at everything else the Greens are doing and advocating for – more affordable housing, a higher livable income, improvements to long-term care, an expansion to the National Pharmacare Plan, more of a focus on post-secondary education. These are all things that are really, really important and need to happen.”
He added, “The Green Party in 2021 has a much broader platform… For a long time, there’s almost been this idea that those who support the Greens are a bunch of tree huggers, and there’s been this idea that we’re a fringe party, lumped in with the likes of the old Rhinoceros Party. But now, we have some staying power. We have some MPs. We have an MPP in Ontario. In Prince Edward Island, the Green Party is the official opposition.”
The local association currently has just over 120 registered members. They are currently searching for candidates who would be willing to represent the Greens, both federally and provincially.
Hillis says the party is looking for someone who could serve as the face of the Greens in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock for years to come.
“We’re looking for candidates right now. We want to get somebody who’s dedicated, who will be on the board, get involved and put their face out there for people to see… We want somebody who isn’t only going to show up once and then drop the whole thing, we want to have somebody who’s going to be here not just for the next election, but the one after that as well,” Hillis said. “It takes time to build things up… The areas that have succeeded, and have gotten Green representatives elected, they’ve had a real strong presence for a long time.”
The next federal election is slated to take place on, or before, Oct. 16, 2023.
In the meantime, Hillis and Regina have committed to supporting a provincial association for the similarly named Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock riding. It’s still early days, but they’re looking to get a candidate in place as soon as possible given that the next election is less than a year away.
Regina commented that anyone can get involved with the new EDA, whether provincially or federally.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been involved with a political party before. I am more involved in this EDA right now than I ever dreamed I would be, but the interest pulled me in and then, once you’re involved, it’s easy to do more,” Regina said.
“Annamie Paul [recently spoke at the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock EDA annual general meeting] and she mentioned she was searching for and looking to have a diverse group of candidates. That’s important to her. There are a lot of people out there who have never thought of being politically active, or taking on a leadership role in their community,” he continued. “She said that most people who are in politics come from a legal or a business background, as opposed to from manufacturing jobs, or the teaching or medical profession. This is another way for us to potentially build diversity throughout the party and throughout parliament, by attracting more people from more backgrounds to get involved.
For more information on the new Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock Green Party EDA, or to get involved, contact Karen Hillis at firstname.lastname@example.org.