‘More than just being about protecting trees and birds’

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At a rally on Nov. 16, the Green Party of Canada called for a more democratic government and attention to pressing climate issues. Around 1 300 Victorians showed up at the Victoria Event Centre to hear speakers, including Green Party MP candidate Donald Galloway (who would come second in the byelection 10 days later, just behind the NDP’s Murray Rankin).

Other speakers were environmentalist David Suzuki, Green Party leader and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands Elizabeth May, climate scientist and UVic professor Andrew Weaver, environmental lawyer and Indigenous rights activist Caleb Behn, Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Wildeman, environmental activist Ken Wu and adjunct UVic law professor Judith Sayers. Vancouver-based musician Dan Mangan provided the musical entertainment for the evening.

Mr. Floatie (a costumed mascot promoting a Victoria secondary sewage treatment plant), who was uninvited, also made an appearance but didn’t make it beyond the foyer before being asked to leave. The local sewage activist, known as James Skwarok without the costume, is in favour of the proposed $783-million secondary sewage treatment plant in Esquimalt, which Galloway has spoken out against.

There was no specific mention of the sewage plan at the rally.

May, whose speech got the most standing ovations of the night, said her life as the only Green MP in Canada is not lonely.

“I’m not lonely in terms of my social connections, my ability to make friends [in Parliament] . . . but what I do have is a distinct lack of resources,” said May. “When I leave the room for a moment, there’s always the risk of unanimous consent on something flying through [without my input].”

May said she wants to see an MP’s ability to make a difference restored.

“There are a lot of bright, wonderful people in all the other parties . . . we’re electing a bunch of people who really care about their communities . . . and find themselves, once elected, to be meaningless cogs in a [hyper-partisan] political machine,” she said.

The rally was the first meeting between Galloway and Suzuki, who praised the MP candidate and congratulated him on his running.

“Greens are far more than just being about protecting trees and birds,” said Suzuki. “Social justice issues are at the heart of the green movement.”

On Friday, the Times Colonist printed an interview with Suzuki saying he did not endorse Galloway, despite his presence and words of support at the rally. The Greens had listed Suzuki as an endorser on brochures, but later said it was a mistake.

Aside from the words of praise for Galloway, Suzuki criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper for damaging Canada’s international reputation in not handling climate change and for using the federal government’s focus on economy as an excuse for not investing in climate action.

“Surely, our economy is made up of climate-affected areas like agriculture, forestry . . . fisheries, tourism and winter sports,” said Suzuki. “So to say our economy is our concern and ignore climate change seems to me absolutely irresponsible.

“Greens understand the economy is a means to something else. But it’s certainly not the end. We now seem to be serving the economy as if it’s some kind of entity that’s just got to be served,” he explained.

Galloway, a UVic law professor, had the last words of the night. He spoke of Harper’s “vicious, vindictive” refugee laws as well as immigration and criminal justice laws that need to be changed.

As co-chair of the legal research committee for the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers —  an association he helped to form in 2011 — he had to bring these issues to the attention of MPs. He said May was the only MP who truly understood the bills the government was introducing.

Galloway, who is originally from Scotland and began teaching in Victoria in 1989, said, “I came to Canada because I found its culture, politics and people to be warm, friendly and communitarian-oriented. I chose this society. This society has now disappeared, and now I’m ready to fight for it back.”

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