Mike Schreiner has spent the better part of a decade trying to push the heaviest possible boulder up the steepest hill in Ontario politics. He’s the leader of the province's Green Party, and has been working to make that all-important breakthrough: winning the party’s first ever seat in the legislature. A year from now, he will try again, seeking election in the riding of Guelph, and leading his charges for a third time province-wide.
His mission is the one of the hardest imaginable in Ontario politics because this province’s politics are remarkably static.
Other provinces have seen parties come and go, winning large numbers of seats then disappearing. In Quebec, for example, the Union Nationale, Action Démocratique du Quebec, and Equality parties all were forces to be reckoned with in their days, only to disappear and be replaced in the current National Assembly by the Parti Québécois, Coalition Avenir Québec, and Québec Solidaire. In Saskatchewan, the Progressive Conservative Party disappeared, only to be reborn as the Saskatchewan Party, which now forms the government. Alberta has its Wild Rose Party, and maybe soon a new United Conservative Party (if Wild Rose and the PCs merge). Social Credit had its moments in British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec, too.
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And, of course, in our federal parliament we had the Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance, and the Progressive Conservative Party, before getting to the current Conservative Party.
But in good old stable Ontario, voters have kept the Liberals, PCs, and New Democrats as their three major parties for almost six straight decades — no one has been able to break that hammerlock on political options. That’s been Schreiner’s mission. And despite the enormity of the challenge, he’s always shown up to Queen’s Park with a smile on his face, content to play the happy warrior and influence issues as best he can.
But Schreiner must look longingly at the British Columbia Greens, who not only won three seats in the recent election there, but also found themselves holding the balance of power in a minority legislature. It’s still to be determined whether party leader Andrew Weaver can actually make NDP leader John Horgan the next premier — that’s proving to be more complicated than initially thought. But the Greens are players in BC in a way that can only make Schreiner green with envy.
Of course, the Green Party is most frequently associated with environmental issues. But in fact, it had its best showing in Ontario in the 2007 election, likely by championing an education issue — and getting a record 8 eight per cent of the total vote in the process. That year it was the one party running on unifying the publicly funded education system by eliminating Catholic school boards.
The party emphasized that issue a lot less in the ensuing 2011 election (Schreiner’s first), and the Liberals, with their Green Energy Act, were seen as environmental champions anyway. The result: the Greens dropped to 3 per cent of the vote. They only nudged that number up a bit, to almost 5 per cent, in the 2014 election.
The Greens like to say they’re competitive in a couple of dozen ridings, and unlike so-called fringe parties, they do run candidates in every constituency in Ontario. But the lack of even a single seat in the legislature has prevented the party from getting the attention it otherwise might — witness the air time Elizabeth May can and does get as the one and only Green MP in parliament.
Most days, it’s hard to be the leader of the Ontario Greens. Schreiner shows up for Question Period every day to monitor proceedings and be available for scrums with the media afterwards. But security won’t let him sit in the public galleries while wearing his party pin, and so he removes it, becoming just Citizen Schreiner.
I sat down with the leader of Ontario's Greens recently, to discuss his fight for a breakthrough on the June 7, 2018 election. You can watch our full conversation in the video above.