The 10 candidates vying to replace Elizabeth May as the permanent leader of the Green Party party held their first leadership debate Tuesday evening where they exchanged arguments over how to manage climate policy, deficits and the movement to defund police forces in Canada.
Perhaps the most high profile candidate in the race, Glen Murray, a former mayor of Winnipeg and Ontario Liberal minister of the environment, crossed swords early with former diplomat Annamie Paul on climate policy.
The debate was held virtually on TVO and was hosted by The Agenda’s Steve Paikin. Because there are 10 candidates, the debate was divided up into two half hour exchanges with five candidates in each session.
Paul, who worked as a political officer in Canada’s mission to the EU, argued in favour of a carbon tax as an affordable, simple and impactful way to reduce carbon emissions while not sinking the economy.
“Glen I think we’ve moved on a bit perhaps from cap and trade,” she said. “I see the future. If [other countries] can do it Canadians can do it … they just need [a carbon tax] articulated by their leaders and that is where leadership matters the most.”
Murray challenged Paul on carbon taxes insisting that a cap-and-trade system like the one Ontario used to have before it was scrapped by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford, was the best way to reduce emissions.
“There isn’t a tax system in the world that came close to the success of the California, Quebec, Ontario system,” he said.
Murray said a carbon tax would have to charge up to $80 a ton to get the same emissions reductions as a cap-and-trade system could by charging just $25 a ton.
He said the Green Party had to offer Canadians “workable systems that you could get elected on, because no one is going to get elected on a $300 carbon tax.”
“You need caps, you need a trade system, you need things that keep it affordable and work well in the economy,” Murray said. “We know that now. We know California is working. We know the carbon tax jurisdictions are still seeing emissions go up.”
Ottawa-based lawyer Andrew West argued that the Green Party’s policy had to be fiscally responsible.
“People are going to be [looking for] a fiscally responsible option,” West said. “The Conservative Party has proven, ever since Stephen Harper, that they are not there for the environment. They have failed the environment. We need to be ready and available for Canadians who care about fiscal responsibility and also care about the planet — that’s the most responsible option.”
Watch: The full first leadership debate for the federal Green Party:
Environmental and human rights lawyer Dimitri Lascaris, who boasts an endorsement from his friend; Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, disagreed with West’s notion that balancing the budget should be a priority.
Lascaris said the pandemic demonstrated that governments could push out huge sums of money when required and that the federal government should do that now to fund the transition to a green economy.
“Is balancing a budget when you need to invest billions upon billions of dollars in a green transition fiscally responsible? I think that’s fiscally irresponsible frankly,” he said. “I think you make the investments that are needed to minimize the long-term costs of this extraordinary damage to our civilization from the climate emergency.”
Defunding the police
Lascaris said if Canada had to “borrow heavily” to fund a green transition “at rock bottom interest rates” then he would “support that 100 per cent.”
While the candidates disagreed on the funding required for a climate policy that may or may not be a cap-and-trade system, they all agreed on one point — Canada should have no more pipelines.
Paikin also asked candidates for their views on calls to defund the police over concerns about systematic racism.
Lascaris said defunding the police is only half of the equation because it does not talk about what will happen to the money that is saved by not giving it to police forces. He said a better approach would be to reallocate funding to the root causes of criminality such as mental health issues, homelessness, poverty and drug addiction.
Paul acknowledged the problem pointing out the fact that Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately targeted by the justice system as evidence of systemic racism but she did not support moves to defund police services in Canada.
“I do not think that that is the right strategy,” she said. “It may be a very small number or percentage of the population, but there are some very bad people doing some very predatory things and there’s no amount of community or social services that is going to stop them from doing that. We want them off of the streets.”
Paul said there need to be clear rules for what type of role police should fill in society and role other social services should play.
David Merner, a lawyer who volunteered for the federal Liberals for 30 years before walking away from the party over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to buy the TMX Pipeline, said defunding the police really only gets at part of the problem because it leaves out the rest of the justice system.
“We need a justice system that is open to deep change,” he said, suggesting that rather than defunding the police, forces should be multidisciplinary and contain mental health professionals that can handle calls where police are not required.
Astrophysicist Amita Kuttner was “absolutely for” defunding the police, arguing that simply redirecting funding to other branches of government, such as mental health services, will not deal with systemic racism in Canada’s police forces.
“We have some violent crime but a lot of that is not by us, regular people, so you may have to have a response force for that but it cannot be one that is based in systemic racism,” Kuttner said.