By Alex Cosh
In the weeks and months leading up to the 2019 federal election, the Green Party of Canada looked to be an ascendant force. With a surprise by-election win in Nanaimo—Ladysmith under their belts, the Greens seemed well-positioned as a credible alternative to the other major parties, and ready to confront the climate emergency head on.
However, despite the party winning a third seat in Parliament (up from two), a Green wave ultimately failed to materialize on election night.
After former leader Elizabeth May stood down, the party’s membership elected Annamie Paul as her replacement on October 3, 2020. Since then, Paul has faced months of attacks against her leadership from inside her own party.
This turmoil was worsened in May when one of Paul’s former aides, Noah Zatzman, launched a tirade against “a range of political actors,” including Green MPs, accusing them of “anti-Semitism and discrimination” because of comments they had made speaking out against Israel’s violence against the Palestinian people.
The Green Party’s federal council called on Paul to repudiate Zatzman (a request Paul later said the council rescinded). When she did not, one Green MP, Jenica Atwin, crossed the floor to join the Liberals, stating that party infighting over the issue had played a role in her decision.
Paul, the first Black and Jewish woman to lead a major federal party in Canada, said the attempts to oust her were driven by racism and sexism. In a letter, two members of the party brass said Paul had “acted with an autocratic attitude of hostility, superiority and rejection.”
All this and more has left the party in a less than ideal state to be fighting a federal election.
Nonetheless, in British Columbia, both the federal and provincial Greens continue to enjoy modest levels of support in some regions, and can be counted on to speak up on key climate issues.
In particular, the Greens have recently been vocal in condemning old-growth logging and the police violence against forest defenders at Fairy Creek.
I spoke to Green Party candidate Paul Manly, who is running for reelection in Nanaimo—Ladysmith. We discussed the situation at Fairy Creek, policing, international climate solidarity and whether the Green Party’s infighting is damaging its ability to impress the urgency of the global climate crisis onto national political conversations.
Alex Cosh, managing editor at The Maple:
Tell me a little bit about your experiences at Fairy Creek, and why this issue is so important in the broader context of fighting the climate emergency.
Well, to start with, I was involved in the fight to save Carmanah Walbran back in the early 90s, and Clayoquot Sound. So I was very involved and engaged. I worked for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee at the time; I was the guy that set up the PA system at the legislature and organized those rallies and lined up speakers, lined up bands. I didn't think that we would be still having this fight 30 years later, to protect these last remnant pieces of old-growth forest down at Fairy Creek.
So when I found out that that they'd set up a blockade last summer, I went down there, I brought some food down, I found some people up at the top of a ridge, where they were punching a road into Fairy Creek. They were wet, they were cold, it was a miserable day in August, and I left them with whatever dry clothes I had and the food that we brought down and took some photos of myself standing beside a huge fir log that had been cut down — it was easily six or seven feet in diameter.
It's well past time to end old-growth logging. We have less than three per cent of it left in British Columbia. These forests are magnificent. They're also very bio diverse, and they have life forms in them that we haven't studied yet. So when we talk about protecting the Amazon or other places because they're the lungs of the planet, we have the same thing here right in our own backyard, and it's incumbent upon us to work on those kinds of protections.
Canada has signed onto international agreements to protect biodiversity, and this is a perfect place to start. That's why as a federal politician, I stepped into the fray. (Old-growth forests are) also really important for Indigenous people.
When you clear cut a forest, you wipe out that biodiversity. My parents have a 20-acre piece of land here outside of Nanaimo that was never clear cut. It was horse logged by my grandfather and my dad, and then they did a little truck logging there. There's great big trees on it, and there's there's plants that grow there like devil's club, which needs wet feet and shade to survive, and it's a medicine for the Coast Salish people. So we actually invite people from Snuneymuxw to come and harvest devil's club and other plants.
When you log these forests and then just replant with what is commercially viable and spray glyphosate to kill off the the deciduous broadleaf trees so they don't compete with those commercially viable trees, what you do is wipe out biodiversity. So a lot of what we have on Vancouver Island is not really forests; it's monoculture tree farms, which are susceptible to insect infestations, susceptible to disease and susceptible to wildfire.
I've been down to Fairy Creek a number of times, to the different camps to visit with people there at the invitation of Elder Bill Jones from the Pacheedaht First Nation and hereditary chief Victor Peters. I've also talked to a councillor, Roxy Jones, who, because of the revenue-sharing agreement that Pacheedaht has signed with the province is not able to speak out against logging in Pacheedaht traditional territory.
And lots of young Indigenous people, including Indigenous people from Pacheedaht, have been arrested at Fairy Creek and very violently. (I've also been) working in solidarity tabling a motion in the House of Commons, asking the government to actually go through a process with the provinces and with First Nations, and look at things like conservation financing to have a just transition from logging old growth, and focus on second and third growth forests.
A lot of mills on Vancouver Island have closed because they were tooled to just deal strictly with old-growth forests. Now we have logging ships that come into Nanaimo harbor every week and leave full of freighters full of raw logs, and those are jobs leaving our communities. I'm not opposed to the forest industry; I just think we need a different way of dealing with forestry. Every piece of timber should be value added and we should be getting maximum economic benefit and maximum number of jobs for that timber. Then we wouldn't have these kinds of conflicts; we could save the rest of these old growth forests and not be pitting loggers against environmentalists, which is what the forest companies love to do.
The B.C. government have set this up as a conflict and it doesn't need to be that way.
You've mentioned the disturbing scenes of police brutality against the forest defenders at Fairy Creek. This comes after months of the RCMP blocking journalists from accessing the sites and also violently arresting some of the blockaders. What is your view on the need for broader policing reform and calls to defund the police?
The video that I've seen from Fairy Creek reminds of my time as a journalist at the (2010) G20 (protests) in Toronto, and videotaping friends, who were journalists, being clubbed and pepper sprayed point blank by police, along with people that were there to peacefully protest a wide range of issues. I submitted that footage to the inquiries, but none of it was useful, because the police all had their badges covered, and they had their faces covered with with gas masks.
We've seen a real militarization of policing in Canada. If you look at what happened in Clayoquot and you compare that to what's going on in Fairy Creek — There's a real militarization of policing.
We have a light-armored vehicle in the RCMP detachment here in Nanaimo. What do we need a light armored vehicle for in Nanaimo? There is a need for reform; there's a need for reallocation of funding. With police checks, why are they there for mental health calls? We should have people that are trained to do that work — with police backup, sure.
I've worked with people with diverse abilities in employment skills training programs, and I've seen the difference, because I've had to actually call for emergency help when somebody was threatening suicide and the police response was very unprofessional. And then the the mental health team showed up and they were able to calm the whole situation down, because they know how to work with people in these situations, and the police cannot. In the end, we see inappropriate uses of force.
In particular, we need urgent reform with Indigenous policing as well. My sister, Heather, is a former police officer; she's actually Indigenous, Haisla from Kitimat village. She's been at the frontline of conflicts between the Caledonia community and Six Nations Mohawks and in a number of other situations, but she also helped to train the Anishinaabe police force in northwestern Ontario, part of the northwest patrol of the Ontario Provincial Police. They use different kinds of tactics in terms of policing, and so it's less confrontational; it's more culturally appropriate and it's a much friendlier approach to policing.
Where are the Indigenous liaison officers at Fairy Creek? How is it that Indigenous peoples, some of them from Pacheedaht trying to defend their own territory, are being so violently arrested? It's completely inappropriate, and it's squarely at the feet of the B.C. NDP, because the RCMP are contracted as a provincial police force.
I want to talk now about the heat wave and the wildfires that we saw here in so-called British Columbia. We know that the heat, driven by climate change, disproportionately impacted disabled people, the elderly, and people living in low-income neighborhoods. Now that we're seeing the connections between the climate emergency and social injustices so clearly, do you think the Green Party's traditionally centrist positioning is tenable for meeting the challenges ahead?
First of all, I want to correct the assumption you made that the Green Party is centrist. I would not have joined the Green Party — I was an NDP member for a long time — if it didn't have solid social policy, and in fact, our social policy, in many ways is far in advance of any other party.
We're the only party that is calling for an elimination of tuition fees for students, for example, to go to the northern European model; we were the party calling for a guaranteed livable income to make sure that we have an income floor under which no Canadian can fall as a way to eliminate poverty, and we're seeing the other parties, the NDP and the Liberals, starting to discuss that issue at their conferences. So we have very solid social policy.
The thing about climate change is that the people who are most marginalized in our society are the ones that are most affected. People that are on fixed income, they're just not prepared for the extreme heat. Some people that are wealthy, that have heat pumps or air conditioning in their homes, are able to filter their air, are much more prepared for dealing with smoke during wildfires, and dealing with extreme heat.
It's also a healthcare issue. We've seen the hospitals and ambulances just couldn't keep up with what was going on with the heat dome with all the calls; we see a lot of respiratory problems, which is already a big issue for low-income populations because they often live in substandard housing, and they often live in areas where they're right beside very busy roads, and breathing in toxins.
And then we have things like environmental racism and sacrifice zones. The Kitimat River was bountiful with eulachon and salmon, and then Alcan moved in, and Eurocan, and now there's high cancer rates in Kitimat village because people can't go through traditional processes of gathering; they have to go way down Douglas Channel to get to places where they can catch crab, fish and shellfish that aren't contaminated.
You see this right across Canada; where there are reservations, there are refineries, pulp mills and other industrial projects. In traditional territory you see fracking or the oil sands or logging. Our policy is to leave no one behind, and a just transition is about workers, it's about communities and it's also about Indigenous people.
In the oil sands, Indigenous communities fought against these projects for many years, and then finally just acquiesced and said, well, if we can't win against these big projects, we might as well be getting some revenue from them, and we've seen that with the Wet'suwet'en with pipelines rolling through their territory. These are communities that are impoverished through the colonial process.
You've long been a defender of global human rights in places like South America, Saudi Arabia and Palestine. Can you talk about the links between the fights for decolonization and human rights, and how these relate to the broader struggles for global climate justice?
Well, most of my focus has been in Canada with Indigenous people, but I've also focused globally in Central America. I've gone to Chiapas to do human rights observation as a volunteer, I have gone to Guatemala to do that. I've accompanied people who were trying to organize workers in sweatshops. I've accompanied people who are standing up against extractive industries in El Salvador and in Guatemala.
People have asked me, what's your concern down there? Why are you going down there? It's because this process of neoliberalism needs to be confronted, wherever it rears its ugly head, and if we don't defend people who are faced with the impacts of our globalized trade system, we're going to end up fighting these things at our doorstep — and we are already.
We consume products that are made with sweatshop labour; Canadian mining companies are going down and interfering in communities in Guatemala and El Salvador and Honduras, and pushing forward extractive projects that communities don't want, and then using police forces to back them up in the same way that we're seeing down at Fairy Creek.
It's the assertion of corporate power over the natural world and it's all about exploitation of resources and people, and so I'm opposed to this kind of race to the bottom.
I've been working on international trade issues for quite a while to eliminate investor-state dispute settlements, which allow corporations to sue governments for laws and policies that get in the way of their profits, and to ensure that standards for workers' rights, environmental standards, health and safety standards, consumer standards, are all embedded in these agreements with teeth.
Let's rewind back to your by-election win in 2019. B.C. and Vancouver Island, in particular, seem to be the home of the Green Party's core support. Why is that, and who are the Green Party's supporters?
The West Coast has had a long history of social and environmental activism. This is the birthplace of Greenpeace and a lot of other organizations. This is a place where people are really pushing for change.
I think people love this place. It draws people to the oceans, the forests, the mountains, and they obviously care about the land. And this goes back to the Indigenous people who were the caretakers of this place for time immemorial, and I think people are disappointed with the NDP who talk a good game on environmental issues. (B.C. Premier) John Horgan had a sign that said "Site C sucks" before he was elected, and then pushed that project through, because there's jobs involved.
The B.C. NDP have poured more taxpayer subsidies into the liquefied-natural gas industry than the previous neoliberal Liberal government did, and they've ramped up fracking, which is really environmentally destructive; it releases methane into the atmosphere all through that process from the actual fracturing of shale, through to flaring, along the chain right to when people turn on their gas stoves or furnaces. Methane is 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. And the idea that it's going to displace coal and be more environmentally friendly is just a lot of nonsense. And then here we are fighting an NDP government to protect old growth.
Even the unions who helped elect NDP governments are disappointed; the B.C. Teachers Federation and the Hospital Employees Union are having to fight to get their contracts. It's a lot of talk (by the NDP) on one side, but it's not a lot of follow through on the other, so I think people get kind of fed up with it.
A common criticism of the B.C. and the federal Green parties is that their support and their membership are overwhelmingly white. What do you think of this issue, and what can the Green Party do to better build intersectional solidarity in the fight for climate justice?
Well, I think you should have a walk down through the Snuneymuxw First Nation community and look at all the Green Party signs, because I've got a lot of support down there, and that's because I work very closely with local First Nations.
For a long time as a filmmaker, I worked with them on language revitalization program projects, on documenting elder stories. I've done films about health care and cultural safety in the healthcare system. I think the environmental movement has learned a lot about working more in solidarity and not trying to prescribe what needs to be done.
That's why in my motion, I'm saying that the federal government needs to work with First Nations whose traditional territory these old-growth forests are in. And I've been doing a lot of work here locally, with local First Nations on repatriation of land for the E&N land grab. I've been talking to the forest companies, to the regional district, to different levels of government and with the First Nations about how do we deal with this historic wrong, and part of that would be Indigenous protected and conserved areas.
There's a lot of common interest in seeing conservation and protection in this area, but in a way that respects that it is Indigenous territory.
A lot of Green Party members will no doubt be very concerned about what's going on inside the party right now. Are you concerned that party infighting is killing any electoral hopes for the Greens, and therefore its ability to impress the urgency of delivering climate justice onto the national political conversation?
Well, my campaign is really strong, and I'm confident that voters in Nanaimo-Ladysmith will be sending me back to Ottawa, and I'm not taking it for granted. I'm out there working really hard and talking to people and knocking on doors and phoning people.
The very presence of a couple of MPs in the House of Commons with a first-past-the-post system, you know, speaks to the urgency of climate change. The day after I was elected, the prime minister was talking about how climate change must be a preoccupation for Canadians. We know we're driving that conversation in the House of Commons.
I talk about biodiversity; we talk about Indigenous rights and social justice. And that's why I've been endorsed by David Suzuki; I've been endorsed by Seth Klein and by 350 Canada.org., because we're pushing the other parties to take action.
The internal stuff in the party is like internal issues that other parties have had. (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh had issues with his leadership until he got a seat in the House of Commons, and then things calmed down. Erin O'Toole has been going through the same thing; he courted the anti-abortionists and the social conservatives to get the leadership, and now they're quite unhappy with him.
But we're in election mode, so those things calm down, and there'll be a leadership review for Erin O'Toole after the election, just like there will be for Anammie Paul and for Jagmeet Singh. That's just the way all parties work. I'm confident we've got a lot of really strong candidates running who are pushing climate change onto the agenda in the political discussion, in the campaigns and in the debates. I'm confident that we will keep that on the front burner.