Green party stresses empowerment


Randy Burton
The StarPhoenix

Tuesday, October 30, 2021

In the heart of what's affectionately known as Saskatoon's granola belt, NDP cabinet minister Pat Atkinson's seat in the legislature is very likely safe.

Even in their most optimistic moments, it's unlikely any of her opponents would predict that she's about to lose this election.

However, in a campaign that is all about change, she is campaigning hard to fend off the Saskatchewan Party. Meanwhile, there is another threat nipping at her heels from the left in the form of the Green Party of Saskatchewan.

While the Green party is still finding its feet in this province, there could be no more welcoming spot in the city for the Greens' message than in Nutana.

And since Green party Leader Sandra Finley just happens to live in the area, that's where she's running.

On this particular day, her living room is cluttered with policy papers and backgrounders, file folders are spilling off the dining room table and two phones are ringing simultaneously.

Running a shoestring operation, Finley's house is doubling as Green party headquarters this year. There is no fancy ad campaign, no expensive phone banks and no party-sponsored polls.

There is, however, plenty of e-mail traffic as various networks of community organizations talk to one another about a different kind of politics.

On this, Finley is an expert. For the past seven years she has been a full-time writer and activist engaged in a wide range of campaigns, from fighting against a dam on the South Saskatchewan River to oil and gas development in the Great Sand Hills to genetically modified wheat.

The common denominator to these is that they represent the clash between what Finley sees as the public interest and what governments and corporations believe represents progress.

On all of these debates, Finley has been a tireless researcher and a dogged advocate for her point of view. Along the way, she has become a practised organizer, something that seems to be serving her in good stead.

For one thing, the Greens have nominated 48 candidates, an astonishing number for a party that has had little or no presence before now. And most of those are from the local communities they seek to represent, with only a few parachute candidates landing from outside.

What the Greens are about is not so much targeting winning seats but giving people an alternative to the mainstream parties.

In practice, that's largely going to mean an alternative to the NDP even though some party-friendly blogs are suggesting there's no need for the Greens for so long as the NDP exists.

While she has respect for a number of green-leaning NDP members, including Atkinson, it's "preposterous" to say the government has been doing everything it can for the environment, she says.

"There is the translation of words into action and that translation isn't happening. It's getting lost some place along the line," she said.

Whatever Finley's chances are of getting elected, there is some evidence that the Green party is having an effect on the larger parties.

You need only look at how popular some of its policies have become to see that. For example, the Greens favour fixed election dates, elimination of sales tax on sports equipment and school supplies, a citizen's assembly to explore proportional representation and a carbon tax to combat global warming. You can see most of these items in one or another of the provincial party platforms or among federal party policies.

At the heart of most of these issues is finding a new way to do government and reducing rampant cynicism among voters.

"When you have a turnout rate of 25 per cent in the 18- to 25-year-old group, when you fast-forward that, democracy is in very serious trouble," Finley said.

"One of the difficulties the Green party has is in delivering the vote to the poll. We don't have party machinery like the NDP has to do that. So what we have to rely on is the determination of the people to bring about change. What you have is a situation where many people accept the status quo and think it cannot be changed, but the Green party offers people the chance if they want to engage and become involved, the opportunity to exercise power. But they have to know that. It's a process of empowerment," she said.

Like any marginal party, the Green party is still having trouble commanding respect. Last week, for example, the three leaders of the mainstream parties were invited to address the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

Finley was recognized in the audience, but not given the opportunity to speak.

Tonight, the three main leaders will be seen on a television debate, but Finley will be nowhere in sight.

Granted, the Greens attracted less than one per cent of the vote in the last campaign, but they do have almost a full slate of candidates this time.

Nor do the main parties have much to brag about in terms of their representation. All three have been forced to jettison candidates because of questionable activities or backgrounds.

That in itself is a distinct difference from the Green campaign.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007