Following the resignation of Liberal MP Bill Morneau, Toronto-Centre by-election is set for Monday October 26, 2020, leaving just enough time this weekend for voters to familiarize themselves with the platforms of the candidates. Newly elected leader of the Green Party of Canada, Annamie Paul is running for his seat, on a platform that must now balance concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic management, environmental concerns, and social justice for disadvantaged groups within the riding. Jordan Johnstone and Melissa Alves explore these issues through an exclusive interview with Annamie Paul.
COVID-19 Vulnerability in Toronto Centre
According to a survey by the Angus Reid Institute, environment was one of the top issues facing the country, until the COVID-19 pandemic thrust it into the back burner compared to concerns over pandemic management and economic recovery. As a candidate running in Toronto Centre, candidate Annamie Paul shared how the pandemic affected the people in her riding.
“So, this is a riding where there are several affluent pockets but there are also several pockets of significant economic deprivation. Three of the most economically deprived neighborhoods in the city are in that riding and so you find a lot of new Canadians, a lot of immigrants, a lot of low-income people, people doing the kind of precarious low-income work that we now recognize as essential,” said Paul.
“There are a lot of racialized people as well in the riding. I think about 40% of the people in the riding have languages other than English or French as their first language for instance.” She continued, “A third of people live below the poverty line, 40% of children do, 25% of people pay more than half of their income in rent. It’s the centre of the opioid epidemic in this country. It has two of the main COVID infection hot spots in this country. Homelessness has spikes during the pandemic in the riding and so have opiate poisonings as well.”
“Of course there’s been a spike in food insecurity as well in the riding. It’s also the centre of the urban indigenous population in Toronto, one of the two in Canada, and the main one in Ontario as well. There is a lot of need, there is a lot of urgent needs in the community. There is a lot of community spirit as well. You know. this is an incredibly vibrant rich interesting place but they have a lot of needs that have gone unmet for a really, really long time,” she added. Paul also raises the issue of high crime rates in Toronto Centre, and explains how the crime rates have been steadily rising each year.
In particular, Paul speaks about two neighbourhoods in the riding that had high COVID-19 infection rates between 7 and 10%. She explains how the overcrowded living situations in the area are potentially causing these high infection rates. She also mentions that the residents of these neighbourhoods often “have no choice but to go out and do the kinds of jobs that expose you to infection during covid.”
Environment, Economy and The Green Recovery
The Green Party recognizes climate change as one of the greatest threats facing Canada. So, when asked how Paul, as the leader of the Party, would guide the province to a carbon-neutral future, she responds:
“In terms of the climate-neutral future.. that was something I really enjoyed writing about during the leadership race. I put out a document called “Chance of a Lifetime: Accelerating our Transition a Towards a Climate-Neutral Green Economy” and I’m talking about a green recovery. And so we’re going to be going, heading into a period where we are going to be spending a lot of money. I mean unprecedented amounts of money. This is something that everyone agrees on, you know on the right on the left I mean wherever you fall on the political spectrum everyone agrees that we’re going to be doing this.”
Addressing the issue of economic recovery from pandemic spending and associated economic slowdown, Paul explains that “All the central Bankers, the socialists, the communists, everyone agrees” that Canada will need to invest significantly for a period of time before financial and other gains can be expected. “The question is, what are we going to spend the money on, because we have to spend this money, you know, the way we sort of did after the Depression, after World War II, in order to rebuild, repair the social and economic damage.”
Paul believes the best way forward is to ensure this money is spent on a green recovery, where all investments support an acceleration towards reaching net zero carbon emissions for Canada. She elaborates on the areas of investment that could include “things like infrastructure, things like a national renewable energy, a renewable energy electricity grid, deep retrofits, which is the easiest thing we can do. It includes investments in renewable energy, investments in clean-tech, and includes amping up our… amping up our carbon pricing approaches, you know including the carbon tax.”
CARBON TAX, PRICING, AND COST TO CITIZENS
Paul also addressed the reality of individual citizens who cannot be “climate allies” when their basic needs are not being met due to financial and systemic problems. She believes it is essential to complete “our social safety net because people who can’t meet their basic needs can’t be climate allies and they tend to be distracted”.
When asked how her goals can realistically be achieved when working with a province with different views on the issue, Paul explains that “you know there is the province that has their point of view, and the federal government has theirs. You try to reach a compromise, you negotiate, but somethings just have to be done.” She goes on to explain that a carbon tax, also called a rebate or a carbon fee and dividend is the most cost-effective, most efficient way to help us get to net zero. While the provincial government may be in charge of resource extraction, Paul emphasizes that “certain aspects of resource development including things like interprovincial pipelines there is an environmental standard, there is a shared jurisdiction over those things.”
Where Green Stands On Socio-Economic Issues
Paul clarifies that Canadians are likely to vote for a “guaranteed livable income” for instance, which she says is “now very popular, very attractive to both the NDP and the Liberal caucus.” She lists universal pharmacare, reforms to our Long-Term Care Health System, and a universal post-secondary education among things that could have protected Canadians from the moment this pandemic hit.
As the leader of the Green Party, of course, she comes back to her “Green Recovery” plan and explains that she is confident Canadians will see the merit and value of that just as much as the other socio-economic policies to safeguard them. She mentions how similar policy changes are already under way in Europe and potentially in the United States if there is a Biden presidency. “There’s a lot of jobs and opportunities in that economy, so you know these are, to me these are all good stories about the future…”
Fundamentally, Paul believes “we’re talking about necessary changes, which believe it or not, against all hope actually you know could put us in a better place than where we started. That’s incredibly rare and if they told that story I think people would jump on board. “