With an election around the corner and climate anxiety ever present, the Green Party is stressing optimism and innovation.
That was the message Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner brought to a small gathering at the Brockville Public Library on Wednesday afternoon, where he joined local federal Green candidate Lorraine Rekmans.
“Are we going to embrace the future, or are we going to go back to the past?” Schreiner, the MPP for Guelph, told a crowd of just over 30 people as he called for a “clean and caring economy.”
The provincial Green leader, who was in Eastern Ontario on the way back from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa, spoke at an event hosted by the Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes Green Party association. Schreiner dropped by to discuss sustainable agriculture, climate change and food security.
But with a federal election slated for Oct. 21, Rekmans shared the floor with her provincial colleague, seeking to put forward her own optimistic message in the face of climate change anxiety.
“The Greens’ message in this campaign is: ‘We can do this,'” said Rekmans.
Schreiner’s brief talk focused on agriculture, arguing that the loss of farmland and concentration of agriculture among large agribusiness firms are endangering Canada’s food security.
“A country that is food insecure is just as insecure as a country that can’t defend itself,” he argued.
The Greens’ solution is to promote local and mid-sized agricultural production, what Schreiner calls “ag in the middle.” He said the party aims to protect mid-sized processors and remove regulatory barriers to local innovation in agriculture.
The party wants to help local producers scale up by providing guaranteed markets, for instance by requiring public institutions to use a minimum percentage of local food.
At the household level, added Schreiner, the Greens want to protect food security through a universal basic income, helping ensure people can afford healthy food.
He is also calling for a return to a culture of connection between people and the food they eat.
“We’ve lost the art of canning,” said Schreiner.
Rekmans, meanwhile, took aim at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), arguing corporate interests at the agency put it in conflict with its mandate of ensuring food safety.
The Greens, said Rekmans, would make CFIA “an organization that does its job.”
Rekmans agreed with her colleague that Canada needs a national strategy for food security.
Audience questions ranged from food security and affordability to the banning of pesticides.
On the latter, Schreiner returned to the theme of innovation, citing new GPS technology that allows farmers to target the application of pesticides rather than the current over-application. He tied that to another Green Party priority: Universal access to broadband Internet connectivity.
Many of the questions reflected the environmental anxiety of the times.
Audience member Denise Bowes argued the globalization of food raises questions of safety.
“How are we going to know what’s in the imported food?” she asked.
And Christine Stesky, a member of the climate-focused group Transition Brockville, noted food items grown today are under threat by a warming planet.
“I’d like to see a lot of research done into how we can adapt our growing to a new climate reality,” she said.
While we are living in “a new world,” humanity has been able to shift and adapt to critical changes in the past, said Rekmans.
“It’s an opportunity to do better and to shine, and it’s ours,” she said.
Schreiner also concluded with a tone of optimism amid anxiety.
“I both have fear at night and abundant hope and optimism at the opportunities that exist,” he said.
(An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Green Party event occurred on Thursday, Aug. 22.)