There are very few candidates who can say they built their own campaign headquarters.
Green Party candidate John Streicker and his wife had originally planned for their backyard garage to become an art gallery — but then the election broke out. Overnight, what was once a garage filled with junk became a hive of Green Party volunteers and campaign staff.
“It’s a good space, it’s warm,” said Streicker.
Streicker launched his campaign on Thursday outside his party headquarters while standing atop a homebuilt “soapbox” — really just an old box of Trojan-brand explosives.
The 2008 campaign is pushing Green issues to the forefront of political debate. In 2006, the Greens clamoured for attention while issues of climate change and carbon emissions went unmentioned in federal debates.
Just two years later, global warming is at the tip of every politician’s tongue.
“The day that it goes beyond rhetoric and goes to reality, I will be happy,” said Streicker.
“It’s nice to hear politicians talk about it, but sometimes politicians just are talking,” he said.
This is Streicker’s first run as a federal Green Party candidate.
He is a climate change lecturer at Yukon College and a writer for Encyclopedia Britannica.
Technically, he is also a partial recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, having contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In the election, other federal parties are touting their use of carbon offsets to create “carbon neutral” campaigns.
But the Greens are remaining relatively silent. For them, carbon offsetting is just a fact of life, something they’ve always done. So why tout it now?
“Because there’s a tendency for people to view us as a one-issue party; we’re working really hard to not play up all our environmental sides. We just think that (carbon offsets) should be at the base level — part of doing business,” said Streicker.
The Streicker campaign has opted not to touch a single aircraft in the lead-up to the election — choosing instead to carpool to its community tours, driving the most energy-efficient vehicle they could find — a Volkswagen Gold TDI.
“Five litres for every 100 kilometres — just about the same as a Smart Car,” he said.
The Liberal’s Green Shift, a plan to raise taxes on fuel and reduce taxes in other sectors of the economy, is generally unappealing to voters.
The Green Party plan is much more ambitious. Where the Liberals propose a tax of $10 per ton of carbon, the Greens would quintuple it.
For an oil-dependent territory, it could be a hard sell.
“It’s ironic that I’m suggesting we raise the cost of fuel — and lower other taxes, like income tax and payroll tax — because we need to break that dependency,” said Streicker.
“It’s not the cost of fuel now that we have to worry about, it’s the cost of fuel in the next several years that will be the problem,” he said.
Taxes on cigarettes and alcohol would be raised. Marijuana would be legalized and taxed as well.
“It’s not just the stick approach — we have the carrot approach as well,” said Streicker.
He cited campaigns to promote local agriculture and produce, as well as health-care campaigns promoting healthy living and palliative care.
Taxes on payroll and income tax would be reduced, as would corporate taxes — by $50 for each ton of carbon dioxide reduced.
“We just think we should be smarter with how we spend money,” said Streicker.
The Green Party economic platform represents an in-depth restructuring of the economy. Streicker’s campaign buttons sum up the policy with the slogan “shift happens.”
The sometimes non populist ideals of the Green Party can be hard to maintain in the high stress of a federal campaign — Streicker hopes it won’t force him to go the way of other politicians.
“When you look at people that run for office, generally I respect most of them — I feel they come with integrity and intention,”
“Yet when I look at Parliament I think, ‘what happened?’”
“I can feel it. As you answer questions, there’s this desire sometimes just to appease, to answer questions in a way that will win you votes,” said Streicker.
“But it’s important to me that our motivation is about trying to be true to our policy and be true to our ideals and be true to our vision of a better Yukon,” he said.
During a recent CBC interview at Streicker’s headquarters, the cameraman suggested that he kiss Hazel, a nearby baby.
“I might have picked Hazel up no problem, I love Hazel … but because they said ‘pick the baby up and kiss the baby’ now they’re making like I’m doing it for the camera,” said Streicker.
“I said ‘No, I’m not going to do that,’” he said.
“I have to watch myself, I have to check in all the time and say, ‘Is this really what I want to be doing with the campaign?’”
The real mantra of the Green Party is long-term planning.
“What we try to start off with is, ‘What are the right choices, the forward-looking, long-term ways to create a vibrant economy, people and environment?’” he said.
Streicker laments the Ottawa credo of “NIMTO” (not in my term of office).
“In our current political system, politicians are rewarded to choose solutions that only cater to this term of office,” he said.
As an environmental consultant, Streicker has often presented issues of energy security and fossil-fuel dependence to federal politicians.
“And they look at you and say, ‘Yeah, but we’re not so sure that we can sell it,’” he said.
While public support continues to rise for the Green Party with each federal election, there is still a slim chance that a Green MP will make it into the House of Commons.
Streicker doesn’t believe a vote should be tailored based on a party’s winnability in a particular riding.
“It encourages people to vote for their second-best or even their third-best choice, rather than voting for something,” said Streicker.
“My belief is, when you vote for something, you’re sending a powerful signal about what kind of Canada we want to create, what kind of Yukon we want to live in,” he said.
“It shouldn’t be about ‘I’ve got a stronger arm than this person,’” he said.
In that sense, any votes that come to the Green Party will be useful, whether or not he wins, said Streicker.
Even if only one Green MP gets in, the power would be “huge.”
That single MP would have access to 10 or 15 per cent of Canadians, said Streicker.
“And look at it the other way — we’re moving towards more minority governments. And with those minority governments the balance of power is held by little votes,” said Streicker.
“And those little votes become critical — you sit there and you’re this one vote and watch how much you would be wooed, watch how much you could change things,” he said.
Whoever gets in to government, the Green Party just wants everybody to get along. They don’t want political power, per se. They want a “power of ideas and a power of choices.”
“Whatever happens out there happens to all of us, and it’s important that we stop this ‘us and them’ rhetoric and move on to a concept of how we’re in this together,” said Streicker.
“I see myself as the oil company, I see myself as the placer miner, I see myself as the teen at risk that’s looking for shelter, I see us all that way,” he said.
“Keeping in mind that it’s all of us together just leads to more inclusive, more diverse and richer solutions,” said Streicker.
If Canadians get all the right info, everything will turn out all right.
“When you really do fairly inform Canadians, then they’re ready to make the right choices,” said Streicker.
“I’m a big fan of democracy; if you let people know what the reality is, then you’re bound to get better solutions coming,” he said.